By Mark Guarino
John Fogerty songs have been and are heard everywhere, ever since he started recording them in 1969. Their familiar riffs and lyrics can be heard every day in bars, at airports, in cabs, at the movies and in ballparks. His songbook is masterful, and is one of the first, at taking quintessential American musical styles and rolling them together into two-and-a-half minutes.
In concert at the Chicago Theatre Wednesday, he poked fun at his ever-present presence in “Creedence Song,” which mimics his signature sound and playfully suggests that when his songs are played on jukeboxes all across the world, they are selected because people know, “you can’t go wrong.”
Fogerty indeed rolled out the old reliables, shook them off and showed how they do not age. Backed by a five-piece band (including monster drumming veteran Kenny Aronoff), Fogerty reminded the crowd that not only was the person responsible for writing all those Top Ten classics between 1969-71 as the singer of Creedence Clearwater Revival, he came of age in the guitar rock era, where Southern rock guitar married the psychedelic climate of Northern California, where he grew up. During the two-hour show, Fogerty took hold of songs — including Creedence rarities like “Ramble Tamble” — and extended them into 10-minute jams. His solos were sectioned into blues riffs, country jangle and a psychedelic suspension of notes, always leading to distorted roughage. On songs like “Commotion,” he played hard, rough and urgent, on “Keep on Chooglin’,” he started low on the fret and worked to its highest peak, ending with swampy distortion. His energy climbed just as high as he stalked the stage — from the far left to the far right — and hopped with excitement when he arrived.
Fogerty is out with a new album, “Revival” (Concord), that boasts pop songs (“Don’t’ You Wish It Was True”) and luxurious country (“Gunslinger”) that sound effortless. His voice remains the same — scarred, Southern, a shouter. What defined Fogerty was the agitation that sounded stamped in his vocals on songs written at the height of the Vietnam conflict. He never was one to preach from the stage, even when Creedence played Woodstock, but instead he was resigned to let the songs punch through the middle and leave a mark that would last generations.
His recent songs of the same nature were presented similarly. The band exited the stage so he could sing “Déjà vu (All Over Again)” in front of a screen marrying images from Vietnam with Iraq. He later combined two new songs — the political satire “Long Dark Night” and the bitter rave-up “I Can’t Take It No More” — as a one-two punch that left the crowd cheering. Moments later came “Fortunate Son,” a song that, 38 years later, still maintains harsh relevancy.
Fogerty, 62, did not pause to offer commentary; the songs did it for him. Besides, he was busy having too much fun.