City: Washington, DC Venue: 9:30 Club Date: 2004-11-12
Whisky smells different on middle-aged men: musky, sharp. I'm flanked and cornered, wedged tightly between beards and business suits. The night before, the crowd at the 9:30 club stood a few feet shorter, bouncing for some mic twirling, emo darling. Tonight, my view is obstructed; the average age, like the men, much larger.
My friends had little faith, eschewing this show as b-grade nostalgia. "50 bucks for John Fogerty solo songs? Please." But my father has faith. Standing beside me -- he's not the one with seedy breath -- his lips purse in a smile. The unspoken undercurrent, a tie reaching across generations, is that Creedence Clearwater Revival remains the ultimate fuel for drunken college nights. For 30 years sorority girls and music geeks alike have woken up with lyrics still ringing, forced to stand by last night's drunken declaration that "No one can deny the Creedence."
I've said it. I can only assume that my father did the same.
When a screen above the stage unravels, the audience snaps to attention. A projection plays mini-documentary footage highlighting Fogerty's career. As the images move chronologically through the performer's life we watch Fogerty's eyes begin to show age. We arrive at a single image, the cover of Fogerty's new album, Deja Vu all Over Again.
The screen retracts and, under a swamp-green, cutout moon, Fogerty emerges. I'm not deterred, or frightened by his sallow skin, his sunken eyes. I'm busy praying that my friends were wrong, praying that Fogerty will transcend his worn shell and breathe new life into his classic songs.
The first chords of "Travelin' Band" ring out and I'm sure: Creedence lives.
Fogerty doesn't hit the mark; he blows through it, guitar and voice steaming. Wholly invigorated, he reaches for his microphone, pointing a finger into the air, and in a full James Brown squawk belts the words: "THAAAANK YOU!!! BLEEEESSSS YOU!!!"
And now we're in for it, 70 minutes of Creedence classics. "Green River", "Who'll Stop the Rain", "Run Through the Jungle", "Down on the Corner", "Born on the Bayou", and countless others performed with unimaginable vigor. Fogerty's voice tears across the words, biting with southern drawl, as his fingers dance through the familiar riffs. Tired with age, he may stumble a bit moving around the stage, but his guitar, like his voice, never misses a note.
The backing band stands in a parallel row four steps behind the singer. Nodding and bobbing, the musicians make sure to keep their hijinks under wraps. That's respect; no one dares upstage Fogerty. Who could? He's animated at center stage, fluxing with all the practiced, pristine energy that made him a legend.
Who would expect anything less? Well, to be fair, Fogerty is touring on his first ever middle of the road release Déjà vu All Over Again. The record is decent, but dated, and it pales in comparison to his other solo efforts -- except for Eye of the Zombie, Fogerty's concept record about zombies, but that's too much of a black eye to seriously discuss.
Live though, even the lemons taste sweet. 's title track is a surprise hit. A plaintive journey though the parallels of Vietnam and the war in Iraq, the song is juxtaposed against video projections of Vietnam-era news footage and more contemporary images. The song's thesis, obscured a bit on the record, becomes startlingly clear. No cheese intended, this one's a tearjerker.
Later, a group of unexplained weirdoes in lab coats emerge from off stage, followed by a masked man in Mardi Gras attire. Their presence is never fully explained, as Mr. Mardi Gras and his scientist buddies hammer at Fogerty's piano and then disappear into the night. Weird, but probably an inside joke. John smiles as they leave, unfazed by their procession.
Mid-set, Fogerty breaks out a surprise prop: a thin guitar fashioned from a Louisville Slugger. Kitsch, I'll admit, but in the moment it seems brilliant. What can follow but the ballpark favorite "Centerfield," a niche hit surpassed only by "We Will Rock You" in the seventh inning stretch.
With a back catalogue like Fogerty's it's hard to play a bad set. Well sort of. Even legendary performers can fall prey to pitfalls. Fogerty should be applauded for understanding his audience and only peppering the set with newbies, rather than letting the new tracks become the focus.
By the end of the evening's 100-minute, sing-a-long set the audience is left battered and bare. It's almost too much to take in. Just when we think the catalogue must be tapped out, Fogerty reemerges for a two-song encore. With a throaty "ONETWOTHREEFOUR" the bands dives into "Bad Moon Rising." Fogerty's eyes are sincere, his lips quivering as he finishes the song.
What's he got left? Fogerty delivers "Proud Mary," big wheels a'rollin'. Capping the evening with another round of "THANKYOUGODBLESSYOU" the consummate showman disappears towards his dressing room.
Later my father and I, still reeling, crunch Popeye's chicken -- it seemed appropriate. "So, what'd you think, Dad, what should I tell the people?"
Slowly he speaks:
"Tell them... No one can deny the Creedence"
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