thu 20/06/2019

John Fogerty / Steve Miller Band, BluesFest 2018 review - keep on chooglin' | reviews, news & interviews

John Fogerty / Steve Miller Band, BluesFest 2018 review - keep on chooglin'

John Fogerty / Steve Miller Band, BluesFest 2018 review - keep on chooglin'

Sixties survivors unpack their back catalogues

Travelin' band: John Fogerty with his son Shane on guitar

Rock critic Greil Marcus observed that John Fogerty’s songs are “about as contrived as the weather”, and there can surely never have been such an easy and instinctive songwriter in rock’n’roll. After his glory years with Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fogerty endured a painful period of career-threatening lawsuits, but has successfully re-emerged as one of the grand icons of rock’s golden age.

His live band is now a family affair, since for this show at the O2 he was flanked by his son Shane on guitar, with whom he frequently indulges in bouts of twin-guitar arm-wrestling, and was sometimes joined by Shane's brother Tyler, who materialised tonight in a red suit to gyrate around the stage and sing “Good Golly Miss Molly”. However, the real star of the show is Fogerty’s catalogue of songs, a thing of enduring wonder.

He’d need a Springsteen-esque four-hour show to get anywhere near doing justice to his collected band and solo material, but in this necessarily shorter BluesFest space (Fogerty bemoaned the “nasty curfew”) most of the material picked itself. For his opening salvo, he charged straight into an almost-metal treatment of “Travelin’ Band”, then ripped through “Green River” and “Hey Tonight”. All fine and dandy, except for a bass-heavy sound mix which was like being clapped around the ears by twin dustbin lids. Things didn’t improve much for “Up Around the Bend”, where you could just about discern that it was Shane playing the trademark opening lick.

It was in the less frenetic material where Fogerty found some space to breathe. “Who’ll Stop The Rain” is as potent as it was back in the Vietnam era, while “Long As I Can See the Light” is as soulful as anything that ever came out of Memphis or Chicago. Fogerty used “Born on the Bayou” to introduce the New Orleans section of the show (though born in northern California, he was always infatuated with the American South). Saxophone, washboard and honky-tonk piano lent a loose, party-time feel to a batch of songs which included Hank Williams’s “Jambalaya”. He didn’t play much recent material, but “Mystic Highway” held its head up alongside the massed classics from yesteryear.

Disappointingly absent from the proceedings was the rasping, hair-raising bark which has always been Fogerty’s vocal trademark. Tonight his voice sounded thin and a little shrill, not the commanding instrument you used to be able to hear coming a mile away. Maybe it’s too much to expect a 73-year-old to sing as if he’s about to spontaneously combust in every song, but this show felt more like a memento of times past than a fresh creative leap, an effect heightened by the backdrop of archive footage from Fogerty’s back pages.

The evening’s earlier set from the Steve Miller Band was an object lesson in meticulous packaging and production. Now 75, Miller is not only a successful musician but a smart businessman, and this performance ran with a sleek, almost corporate efficiency. The dapper Miller looked as though he could deliver a quarterly earnings update or a black tie conference speech with equal aplomb (Miller pictured above with Joseph Wooten).

Still, reminding us that this event was titled BluesFest, he made a point of taking a tour of his roots (his group was originally called the Steve Miller Blues Band). He tipped his hat to the numerous blues legends he got to rub shoulders with in Chicago in the early Sixties, with a special mention for the recently-deceased Otis Rush. He played Rush’s "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)", and apart from the lyrics, it was a dead ringer for Fleetwood Mac’s "Black Magic Woman". He went even further back, to the 1940s, for “Mercury Blues”.

But it was his string of 1970s hit singles that made Miller a superstar, and he led his well-drilled combo through all of them. From “Take the Money and Run” to “Swingtown” and “Jet Airliner”, they’re craftily-constructed nuggets of commercial catchiness, enhanced here by some electronic underpinning and the band’s tight vocal harmonies. For aficionados, he also lobbed in “Kow Kow Calqulator”, a kind of prototype of “Take The Money...” The chart-toppers “Abracadabra”, “Rock’n Me” and “The Joker” had to be in there too, even if Miller’s wolf-whistle slide guitar in the latter probably qualifies as a hate crime these days. Throughout, he showed off plenty of nifty guitar technique, frequently with added echo effects, and had some fun playing a bizarre 19-stringed “sitar-guitar” during a trippy “Wild Mountain Honey”. Evidently, Miller never let all that flower power go to his head.

 

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters