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
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
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
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.