John Fogerty still hasn’t grown into his voice.
When I heard Creedence Clearwater Revival as a kid, I imagined the singer to be some old swamp rat, looking maybe like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons does now.
When I finally saw what Fogerty looked like, he was shockingly young. (Remember, rockers didn’t get much TV time, so you depended on your big brother’s albums or cousin Doug’s 8-tracks.)
It was the same story last Friday at The Venetian. Fogerty is 70 and performs with his grown son Shane, but you don’t get that B.B. King gravitas thing from him. It’s more like joyful abandon to see him tearing around the stage, digging into guitar solos, making up for lost time.
Fogerty refused to play his Creedence hits during years of battling the band’s record label after Creedence broke up in 1972. But the eight-show “Fortunate Son” retrospective (continuing through Jan. 23) packs in so many that it practically checks off the “Chronicle” collection of 20 greatest hits and will disappoint only the few people who really dug that Blue Ridge Rangers album.
So many touchstone songs, too. When you start the show with “Proud Mary” and don’t have to worry about what to do for an encore? That’s a catalog.
Familiarity may have been the biggest challenge when it came to pacing the 100-minute show and giving it a narrative. And so many songs rise up from the same ghostly swamp, you could still be on Fogerty’s side but at the same time admit his Fantasy Records enemies had a point: “The Old Man Down the Road” and “Run Through the Jungle” do sound a lot alike.
And when you figure most of the Creedence hits clocked in under three minutes on your AM radio — “Fortunate Son” is 2:18! — Fogerty and his quintet (plus a pop-up horn section) seemed like a jam band even if they only doubled the running time, or did their best Neil Young & Crazy Horse impression amping up “Lodi”or “Keep On Chooglin’.”
Fogerty’s vocals seemed a little too far down in the mix on opening night; there are a lot of guitarists in this world but only one with that otherworldly voice. And even with drum legend Kenny Aronoff keeping time, a lot of the tempos seemed rushed compared with our AM memories.
But neither was always the case. The star occasionally switched to acoustic guitar to let his voice ascend, and he broke up the classics with a two-year-old song, “Mystic Highway,” which was said to have “a little more perspective” than the oldies.
And Fogerty’s contagious joy in being there gave resonance to the rare timeouts: explaining how his mother made him understand songs are actually written by someone — leading to a cover of “Oh Susanna” with Shane on banjo — or sitting at the piano to try a few boogie-woogie licks and reflect on how “rock ‘n’ roll was born right in front of my eyes.”
It’s still alive in guys like Fogerty. His late-career bounce radiates visibly more energy than road-worn Elton John and Rod Stewart across the street, even if the producers enlisted production designer Raj Kapoor — who was in charge of Shania Twain’s Vegas show — to pretty things up to the level of their slick visual sheen.
Vintage baseball footage for “Centerfield”? Absolutely. Woodstock footage for “Who’ll Stop the Rain”? Sure, especially after Fogerty’s setup yarn about going onstage after “the Grateful Dead had put half a million people to sleep!”
A confetti blast of paper daisies at the end of the same song? Silly, and unnecessary as that photo of a moon for “Bad Moon Rising.” People on both sides of the stage were already happy enough to see one another again without having to force a mood.
Disclosure: The Review-Journal is owned by a limited liability company controlled by the Adelson family, majority owners of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates The Venetian.
— Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at email@example.com and follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.