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Willie Nelson & John Fogerty live!

| August 23, 2006 | 0 Comments

Willie Nelson, John Fogerty
Charter One Pavilion, Chicago
Sunday, August 20, 2006

In the world of double bills, Willie Nelson and John Fogerty doesn’t seem like the most obvious combination, aside from each artist’s affinity for Southern traditions. In Nelson’s case, the American icon has blazed trails mostly in country and folk circles, but has crossed over to a slew of other genres and constantly shakes up his stylistic focus. For Fogerty, who found fame fronting Creedence Clearwater Revival, rock ‘n’ roll has always been at his core, though the grimy, swampy sounds are always streaked with his throaty drawl. No, it may not have been as cohesive of a paring as Nelson and Bob Dylan or the similarities between Fogerty and say Bob Seger, but it worked for the most part as each artist turned in hits and even one short but sweet tag team.

Nelson’s sets can be sculpted many different ways given his vast catalog, but he kept the tone in a generally upbeat and familiar direction, perhaps to better complement his tourmate’s more aggressive and radio-friendly demeanor. The white-bearded and braided troubadour took the stage with cowboy hat in tow, a huge Texas flag hanging above him, and a five-piece band who were often accentuated by the howling harmonica of Mickey Raphael. Together the qualified crew broke out “Whiskey River” to a hailstorm of guitars, a growling rhythm section, and a traditional but timeless flow of country greatness. The classic was augmented with the melodic ease of “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” which earned the beer toasts of at least a thousand fervent followers.

Though not as dynamic as the Janis Joplin rendition, “Me And Bobby McGee” learned in a rootsy direction and warmed up everyone’s voices, while “If You’ve Got The Money I’ve Got The Time” sealed the deal that they’d have plenty of opportunities to participate. The booze really started settling in come a rowdy run through “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” plus the ultimate long-drive companion, “On The Road Again.” Yet Nelson’s detours from his most beloved tracks turned out to be even more adventurous, including a mashup of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away,” which turned into an all-out gospel hoedown. By the time he closed with “I Saw The Light,” it would’ve been enough for even the most devout devil worshipper to feel like they’d had a slice of church, which, considering the concert took place on a Sunday, could’ve also filled the void for those who skipped morning services.

The rock ‘n’ roll revival continued, but with much more amplification courtesy of Fogerty, who abandoned Nelson’s backdrop in favor of a sparse stage and five backers. “Travelin’ Band” and “Green River” were both sewn with some pretty serious licks to kick off the revelry, which also featured his highly active stage movements. Come the much calmer “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” Fogerty took a breather by strapping on his acoustic guitar, though it didn’t completely kill the momentum — Nelson returned a few minutes later for a robust duet on “Jambalaya.” Like the title implies, the tune took on several instrumental lives that included insurgent country elements and Louisiana flavoring. Though it was disappointing the collaboration was short lived, Fogerty again dipped back to his CCR days for “Born On The Bayou,” capitalizing on riotous riff delivery.

Unfortunately that engaging introduction quickly simmered down for a mid-set lull filled with less memorable material, and as a result, a much less attentive audience. His tribute to Harley-Davidson come “Hot Rod Heart” was packed with all the riding clichés imaginable (it won’t be replacing Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” anytime soon) while Fogerty admitted he didn’t even own a motorcycle (maybe they slipped him some sponsorship money anyway). Though “Déjà Vu (All Over Again)” made waves two years ago as the title cut from his most recent studio album, it didn’t translate in the spacious outdoor setting and proved to be yet another point of boredom. His bounce finally came back courtesy of the snarling “Heard It Through The Grapevine,” which marked the beginning of a home stretch that also featured an updated version of his ’80s comeback, “Centerfield,” and additional CCR classics “Fortunate Son” and “Proud Mary.” While that finale was in closer company to Ike & Tina Turner than it was his co-headliner, there was no denying its endurance and Fogerty’s ability to hit several sweet spots for his appreciators.

Andy Argyrakis

Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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