Ex-CCR Leader John Fogerty's Joyful Noise

An American original. Photo by ATN.

From the moment John Fogerty took the stage

Tuesday at Chicago's House of Blues--looking trim and better than any

52-year-old rocker has a right to--and dove head-first into "Born on the

Bayou," it was clear to the capacity crowd that the man who defined "swamp

rock" is back at the top of his game.

The show was everything that one

hopes shows by living legends will be, but almost never are: a great mix of old

songs and new material, delivered with a conviction that says "all of these

songs matter."

Remember that, aside from a few one-off benefits, Fogerty

hasn't played any Creedence Clearwater Revival songs live since 1972, and he

hasn't toured at all in more than a decade. Anytime a performer of Fogerty's

status runs down his greatest hits, the spectre of nostalgia lurks just around

the corner.

But he didn't just play "Born on the Bayou," or any of

the other CCR classics he offered that evening; he attacked them. In the

process, he reclaimed them from two decades' worth of lawsuits, and bad blood

between other CCR members and himself.

These days, Fogerty is obviously

proud of his past, rather than haunted by it. At one point in the

show, an audience member

shouted out for "Zanz Can't Dance," the original title of Fogerty's bitter

attack on Saul Zaentz, the record and film executive who filed several

lawsuits

against Fogerty that have since been settled or decided in Fogerty's

favor. The most famous lawsuit found Zaentz suing Fogerty for plagiarizing

himself; Zaentz, who owns the publishing for the song "Run Through the Jungle,"

claimed that "The Old Man Down the Road" was the same song with different

words). But on Tuesday night, when his name was brought up, all Fogerty

did was smile and say, "I ain't that pissed off anymore."

Playing the old hits. and the tunes on his terrific new

solo album, Blue Moon Swamp, Fogerty sported the ear-to-ear grin of a

teenager playing rock 'n' roll in front of an audience for the first time.

While his voice strained on the high notes, his trademark swamp growl was as

strong as ever. The addition of a gospel quintet (The Fairfield Four) on

"Midnight Special" and the new "A Hundred and Ten in the Shade" only made the

depth of Fogerty's musical roots more obvious, and their vocals put everything

else he played in a richer harmonic context. His lead guitar work (especially a

stinging, jazzy solo in "I Heard it Through the Grapevine") and a nice turn on

the dobro also showed that Fogerty has clearly grown as a musician since the

last time we heard him.

Beyond the good-spirited intensity of his

performance and the fire of his playing, though, the real brilliance of the

two-and-a-half-hour show was in the pacing. By opening with a sequence of

definitive CCR--from "Bayou" through "Green River," "Lodi," and "Looking Out My

Back Door" to especially heated versions of "Suzy Q" and "I Put a Spell on

You"--Fogerty effectively reclaimed his past before delving into his future.

The newer material, particularly "Southern Streamline" and "Hot Rod Heart,"

doesn't so much stand toe-to-toe with the classics as it moves past them into a

joyful noise that CCR, even at their most upbeat, always tempered with the

blues. With these songs in his set, darker CCR numbers such as "Who'll Stop the

Rain" and "Fortunate Son" were even more powerful.

The House of Blues show

was part of a handful of promotional dates Fogerty is playing to prepare for a

full-blown tour slated to begin in July, beginning in theaters and hopefully

moving toward larger venues as it picks up steam. Catch him in the small rooms

if you can, but don't let this train pass you by. It might be another decade

before it comes 'round again.