- 27 Oct 18
A Real Game Of Two Halves In The 3Arena For Night One Of BluesFest 2018. Fogerty Takes Home The Points. Our Man With The Scorecard: Pat Carty.
A caveat before I start getting the digs in at old Steve. I don’t know much about him as an artist outside of the radio hits. Normally, I spend a few days before a show like this familiarising myself with the material but it’s been a busy week, there wasn’t time.
Miller takes the stage looking for all the world like a school principal arriving for the Christmas party, smart casual, sports jacket and crisp shirt - not exactly a spectacular omen - and they open with ‘The Stake’ from 1977, which sounds like Joe Walsh’s ‘Rocky Mountain Way’, not really a recommendation. It plods along in a perfectly sufficient manner, and ‘Abracadabra’ is similarly fine, the other band members papering over the odd crack in Miller’s voice, although there are no problems with his guitar playing.
As it’s BluesFest, Miller gives us some background blues history before claiming it was Texas - the Miller family moved there when he was seven - that put some sophistication into the genre with the likes of T. Bone Walker, who was “the bridge from jazz to blues”, which is a fair enough claim. K.C. Douglas’ ‘Mercury Blues’, which stretches back to 1949, was covered by Miller on his Fly Like An Eagle (’76) album. Here, it sounds a bit like early ZZ Top. Actually, that’s not right, it sounds a bit like a good covers band doing ZZ Top. A band of the lads from accounts who get together to play on Friday nights, “and call themselves something like ‘Free Beer’, for a laugh” adds my companion, Ms Kane, in a not altogether complimentary manner.
A go at Otis Rush’s ‘All Your Love’ is better, introduced by Miller remembering when he first went to Chicago and used to sit in with Rush’s band, who was always happy to let the young man do the work. The band’s playing, and especially Miller’s, is as proficient as you would expect, but it all falls into Clapton territory – easy enough to admire, but hard to love.
The mediocre ‘Space Cowboy’, with the ‘Lady Madonna’ guitar riff, gives way to the pretty awful ‘Kow Kow’, a song about Robert McNamara, the Vietnam-era US Secretary of Defence. Copping the intro to Hendrix’s ‘Machine Gun’ is one thing, but when you start rhyming operator, calculator and elevator, you start to lose me. There’s close to zero stage presence going on here, I’m looking at the pony tailed, sunglassed bass player in particular, so playing ‘Take The Money And Run’ might have been a clumsy lunge for irony. Things get worse again with the Berlin Wall aimed, eighties monstrosity ‘I Want To Make The World Turn Around’ – my research tells me Kenny G played the sax solo on the original, which should be all you need to know.
A long story about buying his sitar guitar – nineteen strings! - for $150, which is now worth about a quarter of a million, introduces the hippy nonsense of ‘Wild Mountain Honey’ and then the hokey 2-step muck of ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’. It was at some point during ‘Serenade From The Stars’ or the Floydy introduction to ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ that I began to reminisce fondly about that time he was playing Otis Rush songs, which now seemed like hours ago. The dance/romance rhyming of ‘Swingtown’ lets you know what Springsteen would sound like if he didn’t know how to write songs, although ‘Rock’n Me’, which is just Free’s ‘All Right Now’ played badly, does get a great response from the crowd. I should add at this point that though I was not enjoying myself, it seemed that almost everyone else was, so take my ranting with a pinch of salt.
At last, they go off, but the crowd aren’t having it and demand his return. At least he doesn’t make us wait and comes out to run through ‘The Joker’. It’s fine, but I’m willing to bet good money that no one, at least no one outside of the pay roll, has ever called him the ‘gangster of love’ in real life. Give me Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson any day of the week. The song is played in front of a giant projection of the Joker album cover from 1973, a picture of Miller in make-up. He looked uncomfortable even then. They finally, mercifully, finish up with ‘Jet Airliner’. Again, I should state that they get a great reception, but not from me.
On A Winner
We have all had that moment where some prick, me in this instance, tells you about a gig you missed and, as they go through the set list, you shake your head and curse the day you were born because you weren’t there. Let me tell you then that John Fogerty was one of those gigs. If you’ll excuse the French, he was simply fucking spectacular. We knew we were on a winner when, after a career spanning slide show, he took to the stage, resplendent in a sparkly jacket with rockets on it, neckerchief set rakishly to one side, and led the band, complete with three-piece horn section through an impossibly rockin’ ‘Travellin’ Band’. "737 Coming Out Of The Sky, Won't You Take Me Down To Memphis On A Midnight Ride. I Want To Move!". I mean, Come On! Frankly, he could have gone back to the hotel at this point, and I’d still be raving about him.
‘Green River’ goes straight into ‘Hey Tonight’ and then into ‘Up Around The Bend’. The place is absolutely hopping as Fogerty, a man in his seventies, runs around the stage like someone a third of his age. It reminds me of Joe Strummer, years ago in the Olympia, roaring at his young band to keep up. His guitar lines, as they were on those original records, are perfect- economically serving the song behind them. The contrast with Miller’s noodling couldn’t be starker. He reminds us that his Rickenbacker and amp are the same ones he played at Woodstock before ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’, then there’s the perfect Don Rich Bakersfield playing of ‘Lookin’ Out My Back Door’, and the eighties/fifties sax in ‘Rock N’ Roll Girls’. Can you see now what I was saying about the set list?
This superbly tight band then blast through Little Richard’s ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ and The Sonic’s ‘Psycho’, featuring Fogerty’s son Tyler on vocals – despite his magnificent red nudie suit, he can’t dance for shit, but he sure can sing, and he is suitably mortified when his Da leads the crowd though ‘Happy Birthday’ in his honour – before things are slowed down for ‘Long As I can See The Light’, demonstrating how that voice hasn’t lost an ounce of the soul that carried the pleading original. “I Heard It through The Grapevine’ gives the great man a chance to take a break as the keyboard player goes to town – his solo ranges from New Orleans to Havana – and then, god help us, the bass player – more pony tails and sunglasses - takes a turn. The boss comes back on to restore order with a guitar-led finish, helped out by his other son, Shane, who plays as mean a guitar as his Pa.
Creedence’s back catalogue is truly the proverbial embarrassment of riches but the spooky swamp stew of ‘Born On The Bayou’ might be their finest few minutes. It’s got an intro the rivals even ‘Gimme Shelter’ and the snaky tremolo guitar lines evoke the backwoods of Fogerty’s imagination as well as anything else they did. He’s on fire here, coaxing feedback from a cowering instrument.
He shamelessly plays the Irish card by explaining that it’s been a dream of his to come back here – his only other Irish show was supporting Tina Turner in The RDS about twenty years ago – and that a recent DNA test has established him as 44% Irish, which is an acceptable percentage on this election day. He then takes us down to New Orleans for Rockin’ Sidney’s ‘Toot Toot’ with washboard and accordion and Hank William’s ‘Jambalaya’ with a perfect Professor Longhair piano break. During Gary “US” Bonds’ ‘New Orleans’ Fogerty Jr. leads a second line-style procession into the crowd dressed as a leprechaun. “Hold On!” you might cry, “We’re not having any of that clichéd shite!” but the crowd lap it up, excusing it as a small price to pay for such a ridiculously great show. Miller must be sat in his dressing room wondering where he went wrong.
Fogerty goes full Eddie Van Halen before kicking into a crushing ‘Keep On Chooglin’, wherein he gives the drummer some and gets the harmonica out while pyrotechnics explode in the background. He sings ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain?’ for his daughter, but you can’t really hear him as the crowd have taken over by this point, and they keep going through ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ and ‘Down On The Corner’.
The solo ’Old Man Down The Road’ fits right in, as it should when you remember the bizarre case of Fogerty being sued by his old record company for plagiarising himself when it came out in 1985. ‘Fortunate Son’, a song that could have been aimed at the bone spurs of the current White House incumbent, finishes out the main set, levelling the place as confetti cannons fire, streamers –red, white and blue naturally - fall from the ceiling and giant sparklers fire at the back of the stage. If all this is a result of Fogerty’s recent Las Vegas residency, then more rockers should take that particular soup. This is a rock n’ roll show.
They encore - there was no way this crowd was taking no for an answer - with the double-time of ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and, of course, ‘Proud Mary’ carried by the horn section, and then the lights finally come up on an exhausted, exhilarated throng. A good question might be to ask what he didn’t play - ‘Lodi’? ‘Run Through The Jungle’? - it doesn’t matter. You couldn’t have asked for a better show to swell the heart of the true believers. I’m been listening to Creedence since I was a child, I’d never seen Fogerty before; I was worried I’d be disappointed. I most assuredly wasn’t.
Simply Fucking Spectacular.