The list of seminal rock stars you would want to see just to say you saw them – regardless of how much talent they may or may not still possess – is short and glorious: your Ringos, your Dylans, your Arethas.
John Fogerty? You’re darn right.
The former lead singer for Creedence Clearwater Revival, whose hard-edged voice gave life to a host of classic tunes in the ’60s and ’70s that remain an irresistible lure to today’s classic rock radio programmers, took the Gusto Grandstand stage Thursday at the Erie County Fair and didn’t give it back until he had spent nearly two hours tearing it to shreds.
Fogerty’s famous falling-out with his onetime bandmates might have robbed CCR fans of a reunion, but he still sings and plays the old songs with the passion of a kid trying to make it big.
And he hasn’t lost much in the vocal department. There was none of this lower octave stuff or a bunch of backup singers covering the high notes that are just a memory. His accompaniment was a five-piece band and about 10 different guitars. From “Travelin’ Band” to “Proud Mary,” Fogerty carried the load and made the thousands of fans at the Fair feel like they were watching the 20-something version.
(OK, he didn’t do the screams in “Travelin’ Band.” He’s been getting the AARP discount for 20 years. Give the guy a break.)
Whether with his band or as a solo artist, Fogerty the artist and the performer has an everyman quality. He sings about watching other people play music, about problems on the horizon, about the unfairness of life.
It’s rock ’n’ roll poetry of the kind that Bruce Springsteen and others would emulate.
Fogerty let his music do the talking for him Thursday. Ambling to the microphone wearing jeans, a plaid shirt and a bandana around his neck, he told the crowd there would be no speeches. “We’re just here to rock and roll,” he said and launched into “Green River.”
After that, it was hit after hit after hit. With an acoustic guitar around his neck, he introduced “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” a song he said he wrote after playing a little music festival 45 years ago a few miles down the Thruway. Woodstock? Anyone?
Then came “Born on the Bayou,” “Lodi,” “Lookin’ Out My Backdoor.” Then later were “Midnight Special,” “Down on the Corner” “Have you Ever Seen the Rain?” It was amazing how strong his voice sounded on each one.
Equally amazing is the familiarity of his catalog. I’m not sure I’ve been to a concert where a higher percentage of the audience seemed to be singing along with every word. And he sang every word. No medleys. No, “Here’s some songs from my new album.” He gave the people what they wanted and the people loved it.
The high point in that regard came near the end of the show when he played the three solo songs from his monster album of 30 years ago, “Centerfield”: The title track, “The Old Man Down the Road,” and especially, “Rock and Roll Girls.”
Why especially? Because of this lyric: “If I had my way, I’d shuffle off to Buffalo. Sit by the lake, and watch the world go by.”
The only way the screams would have been louder would have been if he had said something mean about Bon Jovi.
If you went to the show hoping to hear the songs that made you love CCR and Fogerty, you got your money’s worth. You also got to see a performer who could be resting on his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame laurels instead working his hardest to give a county fair audience a great show.
“Not bad for 70,” said a guy sitting behind me. Actually, that comes next year for Fogerty. But it doesn’t look like it means he’ll be slowing down.