John Fogerty stays true to his rock roots
At GM Place on Sunday, June 7
It was quite a surprise to step into GM Place for John Fogerty and find that it was set up in “Pontiac Theatre” mode, where only a portion of the capacity is used. You’d think that a rocker of Fogerty’s stature would draw a lot more people, but I guess in order to pack arenas these days he’d have to actually reclaim the name that his songs, voice, and guitar made famous: Creedence Clearwater Revival. For legal reasons, that might require him hooking back up with his old CCR rhythm section, which is currently trotting out his hijacked compositions as Creedence Clearwater Revisited. That’s not likely to happen, though, and it’s just as well, because then we’d have to listen to the so-so Doug Clifford on drums instead of the amazing Kenny Aronoff.
Aronoff, who spent many years performing with John Mellencamp, is arguably the world’s greatest rock drummer, a muscular, chrome-domed rhythm machine with impeccable timing. So, even though Fogerty’s current band includes three guitarists, a bassist, a keyboardist, and a fiddler-percussionist, it was very much the John & Kenny show Sunday night.
Fogerty came bounding out on-stage, donned a Les Paul Goldtop guitar, and headed right into “Rockin’ All Over the World”, a boogie tune well-suited to Aronoff’s punishing approach. At that point, the friend seated next to me pulled out a cellphone and started sizing up a photo, but a security guy rushed over and explained that there was no photography allowed, that Fogerty had banned it. A bit harsh, maybe, but when the music legend followed up the opener with “Bad Moon Rising” and “Green River” we were too immersed in the swamp-rock glory of Creedence to worry about digital mementos.
The fiddle-playing of Dan Hochhalter brought a rootsy, front-porch vibe to another CCR standout, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, and also bolstered “Big Train (From Memphis)”, a track off Fogerty’s comeback solo album of ’85, Centerfield. Fogerty didn’t allow guitarists Billy Burnette and Hunter Perrin to take any solos themselves, but his hogging of the six-string spotlight wasn’t cause for complaint. Whether working the whammy bar on the intro to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s haunting “I Put a Spell on You” or pulling off Van Halen–style trickery at the start of “Keep on Chooglin’ ”, he was always in top guitar-hero form. And it didn’t hurt that his singing sounded as strong as ever.
“I ain’t here to talk, I’m here to rock!” hollered Fogerty at one point, and for the most part he stayed true to his word. But he did take the time to pay tribute to his family by dedicating the tender “Joy of My Life” to his wife, Julie, and by proudly displaying a picture of Scooby-Doo drawn by his seven-year-old daughter, Kelsey. He also explained that he’d just celebrated a birthday, before giving away his age with a verse from the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four”. According to my calculations, that means he became a dad at the age of 57. Keep on chooglin’, indeed.
While Aronoff’s mastery of the drum kit was impressive throughout, it wasn’t until he started thumping on a cowbell that the crowd got seriously hyped, realizing that it signalled the arrival of the massive CCR hit “Down on the Corner”. When Fogerty left the stage for the first time he’d already banged out more than 20 great tunes that covered a 40-year span, and he could have easily come back and played 20 more. But we had to settle for “Up Around the Bend”, with its killer sliding riff, and the joyous exuberance of “Proud Mary”. Poor us.