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Pop Music Review

Fogerty Scores With Combo of Energy, Passion

May 23, 1997|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

Put me in, coach

I'm ready to play . . .

today.

*

One reason John Fogerty's "Centerfield" is the best baseball song since "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is that the 1985 hit didn't define the status of the fictional player who was urging his coach to put him into the lineup.

That enables fans of all ages to identify with the song's optimistic sentiments: You can think of a rookie eager for his first "moment in the sun" or a veteran seeking a final chance after years of "watchin' it from the bench."

It was hard not to apply that duality to Fogerty's own career when he sang "Centerfield" midway through his two-hour performance Wednesday at the House of Blues, the second stop on his first tour in 11 years.

Holding up a baseball-shaped guitar, Fogerty--whose landmark work with Creedence Clearwater Revival nearly three decades ago has already earned him a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame--joked about how it was pretty easy to tell which song he was going to sing.

What made the song especially stirring on this night was that Fogerty's entire set reflected both the joy of someone just starting out and the experience of a savvy veteran. It was a rich, uplifting combination of energy and character.

The big selling point of this tour, which kicked off Sunday in San Francisco, is that Fogerty is performing the Creedence hits--"Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising" et al.--for the first time, outside of occasional benefits, since the band broke up in 1972.

Though his singing and guitar playing were thrilling on his 1986 solo tour, Fogerty disappointed fans by not doing any of the Creedence tunes because of personal and legal differences with Fantasy Records' owner Saul Zaentz, who owns the Creedence recordings and the copyrights on Fogerty's songs from that period. Fogerty explained he didn't want to put more money in Zaentz's pocket.

This time around, Fogerty realized that he was only hurting himself by not doing the old songs, and he has built the new show around them. Of the 27 songs in Wednesday's set, 16 were from the Creedence era, seven from the just-released "Blue Moon Swamp" and four from the years in between.

Apparently liberated after more than 10 years away from performing, Fogerty was so relaxed between songs that he kept up a steady stream of jokes and asides to fans at the edge of the stage.

Fogerty's crack four-piece band--which includes former John Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff and Linda Ronstadt bassist Bob Glaub--also frequently had smiles on their faces. And why not? Who wouldn't love to play those old Creedence hits?

In such landmark tunes as "Who'll Stop the Rain" and "Fortunate Son," Fogerty combined masterfully the commentary of '60s rock and the economy and country-blues spirit of '50s rock.

Singing and playing guitar with his usual captivating intensity, Fogerty supplemented those numbers Wednesday with flavorful versions of other Creedence material that he didn't write, including Dale Hawkins' "Suzie Q." and the traditional "Midnight Special." He was joined vocally on the latter by the Fairfield Four gospel group.

At times on the new tunes, including "Swamp River Days," Fogerty seemed to be retracing his Creedence steps too closely, but there were other moments--from the celebration of "Hot Rod Heart" to the troubled stirrings of "A Hundred and Ten in the Shade," where he touched on rock's country and blues roots with the old magic.

By the end of the evening, Fogerty had proved that he remains one of the treasures in rock. Like Neil Young and Keith Richards, Fogerty plays with such purity and emotion that there's almost a spiritual grace to his music.

Hey, coach, this kid/veteran really is ready to play . . . today.

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