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John Fogerty @ Kodak Theater 11/12/09

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It’s hard to pinpoint the moment it occurs, but at some point while watching John Fogerty run through the highlights of his career at the Kodak Theater, one gets the distinct sensation of tapping the source.

Though the songs he wrote for Creedence Clearwater Revival were conceived roughly forty years ago, they seem to be as old as the mountains. They’re so ingrained in the collective consciousness, so deeply embedded, that it’s easy to take them for granted, to assume they’ve just always been around. Not for nothing were they Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski’s favorite band; tough, smart, and unmistakably American, they’re nothing less than a signifier of righteousness.

Fogerty in person can be one contrary mother when he wants to be; on several solo tours tours following Creedence’s breakup, he refused to play his old songs, seemingly on the grounds that selling more CCR records only benefited his record label, Fantasy, which was in the process of suing Fogerty for making records that sounded like his old ones, and thus stealing "their" intellectual property. Such a state of affairs could make anyone cranky, but it didn't endear him to his fanbase.

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But for this visit, he was all about giving the people what they want - 17 of the 25 songs performed were Creedence-era classics, alongside a handful of cover tunes from his latest venture into the American folk songbook, The Blue Ridge Rangers… Rides Again, and just two songs (“The Old Man Down The Road” and “Change In The Weather”) from his solo career. It was a night firmly rooted in the past, but if Fogerty was content with looking back, he gave the old songs immediacy through urgent, no-holds-barred performances.

Of all the people from his generation still playing music for a living, Fogerty’s got to win the award for best-preserved of any of them. Unlike most of his peers, who’ve given in to a noticeable sagging, he still looks tightly wound. Though he doesn’t quite have the same throaty rasp anymore, his voice has lost none of its high end. Even the frequent ballads are played for real, and he gives his all even to restraint. And his guitar playing remains as raw and fearless as ever. Some of the night’s best moments came when he allowed himself to stretch out and explore the possibilities of the “Susie Q” chord progression, or the break in “Keep On Chooglin’”, or the end of “Born On The Bayou.” While he’s not often thought of in the same terms as your Clapton/ Hendrix guitar gods, he’s still one of the most distinctive, immediately recognizable players in his field, and even in his dotage, still favors playing it extremely loud for an extremely long time.

But for the most part, it’s a series of simple, three-minute songs with memorable hooks and a sprightly, country-flavored backing band, including drummer Kenny Aronoff (yes, ex-Cougar), guitarist Billy Burnette, steel player James Pennebaker and violinist Jason Mowery. On hoedown hollers like “Out My Back Door” and Jumpin’ Gene Simmons’ rockabilly nugget “Haunted House”, Fogerty let his side men burn down the barn with breathless dueling solos. The quiet numbers, like Delaney and Bonnie’s “Never Ending Song Of Love” and John Denver’s “Back Home Again” were played with a suitably warm and gentle glow. And for the rockers, they pulled into a fist and pounded. “Ramble Tamble” as played by this crew sounded more like X than Creedence, racing, pulse-pounding and constantly building over a relentless freight-train beat, Fogerty hollering at the moon. “Fortunate Son,” which finished off the regular set, was as scathing and vitriolic as could be hoped. But it was the considerably more optimistic “Down On The Corner” that sent us on our way, a good vibration from another time, one that sounds a lot farther away than it actually is.

Photo from Stagecoach '08 by whittlz via flickr.