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Pop Music Review

New Orleans Never Sounded So Good

September 12, 2000|NATALIE NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Proving that mature artists can still rip it up when they want to, rocker John Fogerty, R&B mystic Dr. John and soul singer Irma Thomas offered three different, equally vital takes on New Orleans style on Sunday at a festival celebrating the sounds of the Crescent City at the L.A. Tennis Center.

Fogerty is not even from the South, but it still was appropriate for the Berkeley-born musician to headline the show at the UCLA campus. After all, as the leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival he earned his place in rock history by drawing on the earthiness of the region's roots music and mythologizing its spirit.

Philosophical justifications aside, Fogerty rocked. Keeping the exuberant audience on its feet for most of his 75-minute set, the 55-year-old singer and his quartet tore enthusiastically through "Fortunate Son," "Bad Moon Rising" and many other Creedence hits, as well as highlights from his solo career.

Watching him grinning and bounding around the stage, it was hard to believe he once refused to play these songs, especially since the blend of roots, hard rock and swampy funk Creedence pioneered felt as vibrant as it did in its late '60s/early '70s heyday. Despite the nostalgic glow, Fogerty seemed capable of earning fresh hits and selling out arenas.

As steeped as Dr. John, 57, is in his hometown's roots, funk, and jazz, the New Orleans native's 40-minute set carried a touch of California in the vague, hippie-trippy feel of his good-time Creole boogie-rock.

The singer-keyboardist's loose, energetic performance provided a freewheeling contrast to that of opening act Thomas, who crooned smoky, emotionally nuanced renditions of classics such as "Don't Mess With My Man" as well as the title track from her current album, "My Heart's in Memphis." Backed by an adept septet, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, 59, was in fine voice, with a mature, dignified-yet-fiery demeanor that quickly engaged the audience.

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