John Fogerty. At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Sunday, September 3.
Reviewed by D.J. Palladino
It’s tempting to create a new precept for criticism here: If the Bowl is rocking, don’t bother knocking. Unquestionably, hit-maker John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater fame gave an amphitheater full of rockers (of a certain age) the ride they sought, fueled with nostalgia and honed to radio-version delivery time: about 20 songs in an hour and 45 minutes. It all began with “Playing in a Traveling Band” and “Green River,” moved through a solid core of brilliant covers like “I Put a Spell on You” and “Midnight Special,” then choogled, bootlegged, and chased down a few hoodoos to end with “Fortunate Son,” “Bad Moon Rising,” and “Proud Mary.” People who saw me scribbling notes came over and warned me this was a great show. “On a scale of one to 10,” one intense woman leaned over the rickety chairs to inform me, “This was a 15.”
Why was I not engaged then? I am of that certain age. It wasn’t the aw-shucks man himself, coming on after a rousing, dirty set by Lucinda Williams, though his performance seemed more dork than duck walk. It was the obviousness of the hit list contrasted with moments of gorgeous genius that kept throwing me out of love. When acts are growing and artists are creating, they put on shows that deliver new material through the spectrum of the old hits, rearranged to make the new stuff have a context. This material just came out, burp, and in forms that would not have pleased a 1970s (altered) audience. I pray we never go back to interminably long, jammy versions of every recording, but this wham-bam, thank you ma’am is strictly for the, well, happy audience at the Bowl.
Several moments soared, and particularly during the guitar symphonic psychedelia of “Ramble Tamble,” where Fogerty, who was in great voice throughout, showed forbearance, care, and passion. It was vivid and bitter roots Americana in ways “Proud Mary” will never be. He also sang a protest song against the current war. For those two moments, I’m glad I saw the man, nay, the legend, even if my critical faculties never quite got rocked up to 15.