John Fogerty – 19 November 2022 – Encore Theater, Wynn Las Vegas
My appetite for punishment knows no bounds when it comes to legacy nostalgia acts. Barry Manilow, Steely Dan, Rod Stewart, and Earth Wind & Fire? Been there. Even Donny and Marie made the list, no doubt a nod to their ubiquitous 1970s variety show and its subconscious impact on a stuffy future music critic. If nothing else, 50-year veterans of the spotlight usually know what they’re doing.
Each of these performances also took place in Sin City, a town yours truly is far too familiar with. Established acts from Sting to Mariah Carey have learned to relish these Las Vegas residencies, dispensing with expensive road crews and grinding travel schedules for a comfortable suite and a steady gig where the world comes to you instead of the other way around. Vegas concert-going strategy is therefore disarmingly simple: browse every artist on Ticketmaster performing that week, from Carrot Top to David Copperfield, and pick just one. This trip’s choices included Rich Little, Billy Idol, and Aerosmith, geriatrics all. Yet right there among the seniors was John Fogerty himself: elder rock statesman, famed anti-war troubadour, and influential lead singer of 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Senior? The man is 77 years old, placing him squarely behind Mick Jagger and meme-heavy Keith Richards in the upper tier of still-active rockers. For tickets in this price range – check them yourself, we’ll never tell – that daunting figure gave us pause. It isn’t ‘ageism’ to wonder whether a hard-living 1960s icon three years shy of the big Eight-Oh can still pull off a dynamic stage show, any more than asking if he plays fullback for the New York Jets. Also in consideration were two ornery, hard-to-please teenagers, not exactly Vietnam-era music buffs themselves. Fogerty’s fan demographic obviously skews toward Century Village, making them the youngest in attendance by about four decades. Not exactly a nursery-school crowd.
The Wynn’s Encore Theater is a remarkably intimate venue, and our seats were excellent – about the tenth row right. Two nearby seatmates were seeing Fogerty for the third time. They promised us not only a fantastic show but that my teens would recognize “more hits than either of them expected”. Uh-huh. Sure, they would. Right?
For all its obnoxious glitz, one of Las Vegas’ unheralded charms is its penchant for honest-to-goodness surprises. Besides gambling and other iniquities, this place makes gobs of money off eccentric intangibles and other counter-intuitive experiences – a packed desert oasis, half business and half pleasure, with a buzzing rhythm all its own. If you want cheesiness Vegas has it, more than you can handle; if you prefer the best steakhouse in America, they have that too. Multi-million-dollar resort gyms sit empty on party weekends but bustle with Type-A conventioneers on weekday mornings. Fendi and Balenciaga sell $5,000 purses right beside CBD vape shops. Dune-buggy rides, the Hoover Dam, and even the Grand Canyon’s west rim are a short ride away for nature lovers. Whatever your fancy, Sin City has achieved a sort of entertainment Critical Mass: something for everyone, but also an audience for everything. As they say, the normal rules don’t apply here.
Which is a lengthy way of saying that the venerable Mr. Fogerty put on one of the most rockin’, boogyin’ shows this stodgy reviewer has seen in quite some time.
For any music aficionado, Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s brand of bluesy Southern swamp rock (by way of Northern California) occupies an intriguing position in pop history. Five of their singles reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100, yet somehow the band never notched that elusive number one hit. Beyond the charts, Fogerty’s sweeping influence on music, politics, and late 1960s culture cannot be overstated, not least as evidenced by the eternal association of songs like “Fortunate Son” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain” with Vietnam and the draft. One may debate their status as ‘trailblazers’, but Creedence Clearwater Revival’s amalgamated hits and covers were undeniably of their time – containing echoes of everything from Motown groove (“Heard It Through the Grapevine”), to rootsy boogie-woogie (“Suzie Q”), to jangly Byrds/Hollies/CSNY guitar-folk minus the harmonies (“Hey Tonight”). Most of their fleeting singles barely broke two minutes, also a 1960s trademark, and are all the more precious for it.
Now, to the show itself. David Lee Roth once claimed that Van Halen covered the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” simply because that buzzing inaugural riff never failed to get a crowd going. Fogerty likewise opened with “Up Around the Bend”, whose distinctive screeching refrain electrified his audience from the outset. He played, sang, and danced, jouncing around like a jackrabbit half his age. He sounded quite good doing it, too – always a crap shoot where aging rockers are concerned. Thankfully Fogerty’s voice has held up quite well.
Nobody reading this needs a song-by-song primer of Fogerty’s well-regarded catalog. So we’ll stick to the highlights, of which there were many. Lively solo hit “Rock and Roll Girls” from his unforeseen 1985 comeback, Centerfield, dredged up a swirling memory from the distant past: A cut-rate jazz band at a long-ago charity event played a barely recognizable instrumental version, after which our table spent the next hour struggling to Name That Tune. (Guess who finally won.) “Green River”, “Born on the Bayou”, and the still-whiny “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” were foolproof crowd-pleasers, and honestly, how could they fail? My favorite, “Down on the Corner’s” insidious chorus, feels like it’s been stuck in the country’s head for the past fifty 50 because it has. By the time “Centerfield’s” distinctive ESPN handclaps rang out, my teens had already recognized at least three hits – three more than expected, so belated props to our prescient seatmate neighbors.
Then came one of those transcendent live experiences that never quite faded from consciousness. Fogerty’s sons Shane and Tyler are touring with him on guitar, and Centerfield single “The Old Man Down the Road” featured a scorching five-minute dueling solo between John and Shane that nearly tore the roof off the place. For an instant, Shane was the star and John his accompaniment, with Dad egging him on. What a pleasure to bask in such an extraordinary father/son moment, and every patron in that theater knew it too.
A lone snobbish complaint and a minor one: Too many cover songs. Fogerty wisely skipped Creedence Clearwater Revival’s interminable 11-minute version of “Grapevine”. But other contemporary folk/Motown classics like “Midnight Special”, “Lean on Me”, and “Do You Love Me” are overplayed enough in pop culture without consuming fifteen minutes of an otherwise enthralling show.
As with all veteran acts, one never knows how long the magic will last. But hey, this is Vegas, where the magic happens! If Fogerty can keep defying Father Time, a certain critic and his two teens would gladly sign up for another ride.