There is an infectious joy to watching John Fogerty on stage.
With his son, Shane, to his right on guitar; a three-piece horn section clad in the Fogerty-requisite uniform of blue-plaid shirts; and four other musicians, including ace drummer Kenny Aronoff, anchoring the sound behind him, Fogerty has reason to radiate happiness.
He’s on the road this summer with pals ZZ Top – they flip-flop openers each night on this “Blues & Bayous” tour – and on Wednesday, Fogerty claimed the earlier set.
In a customized jacket emblazoned with planets buttoned up over his own trademark plaid – at least for a few songs – Fogerty bounded onto the stage at State Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park (the first series show of the season in the newly renovated venue) and dove into the first of many Creedence Clearwater Revival classics, “Travelin’ Band.”
Fogerty quickly acknowledged his surroundings – “You have to be able to hear the forks drop to the cement,” he quipped – before rolling into “Rock and Roll Girls” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” his voice remarkably intact, even in the higher keys.
He’s a welcoming and talkative fellow, stopping frequently between songs to tell a story about getting his hit-making 1973 guitar back recently, giving the background of his collaboration with Brad Paisley in honor of U.S. veterans (“Love and War”) and dedicating “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” to daughter Kelsy.
Fogerty also saluted ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons, who made an early appearance on stage to perform their new joint effort, the chugging blues rocker, “Holy Grail” (following soundcheck on Wednesday, Gibbons and Fogerty sat down with Kaedy Kiely of 97.1 The River for a Facebook Live chat about the new song – check it out here).
Armed with his trusty Les Paul guitar, Fogerty bounced in place, his tawny hair flopping, as the band dug into their famously rich rendition of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and bass-driving “Born on the Bayou.”
A highlight of the 90-minute set was a tribute to New Orleans featuring a washboard, accordion, that fabulous horn section and, as the band segued from Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” to Gary U.S. Bonds’ “New Orleans,” a mini Mardi Gras parade of musicians unfurling a lively “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Fogerty ripped out a series of solos throughout the set, demonstrating that at a youthful 73, he not only looks and sounds great, but can still nimbly work a fretboard.
The blistering two-fer of “Centerfield” and “Fortunate Son” capped the set before the perfect kind of encore: Fogerty barely entered the wings before returning to center stage to keep the crowd dancing with “Bad Moon Rising” and the always-fierce “Proud Mary.”
His obvious exhilaration carried into ZZ Top’s set as well.
Even though the Texas trio of guitarist Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and the forever ironically named drummer Frank Beard project an apathetic cool behind their shades and still-prodigious beards (for Gibbons and Hill), they also exuded a fun vibe.
“Got Me Under Pressure” opened their set, with Hill and Gibbons still engaging in humorous swings of their instruments as Gibbons cranked out some smokin’ Texas riffs.
The Sam and Dave hit, “I Thank You,” which ZZ Top co-opted in 1979, showcased the contrast between Gibbons’ gravelly voice and Hill’s higher, slightly strained vocals.
The pair has a synergetic relationship onstage, leaning and pointing simultaneously and knowing the exact second to flip a hand toward Beard, plowing away behind his mighty drum kit.
Gibbons sang “Jesus Just Left Chicago” with an intentionally froggy delivery to match the song’s blues spirit and the harmonies of the front two were spot-on during “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” one of their many MTV era hits (“Legs,” “Sharp Dressed Man”) revisited during the show.
Performing on a stage backed by a vivid video screen and stacks of colored Magnatone speakers, ZZ Top (which did not allow professional photographers to shoot the show) relied on their taut musicianship and effective lighting to tell their tale – one which, Gibbons noted before the grinder “Pearl Necklace” and “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” will turn 50 next year.
“The same three guys, right here,” he said, gesturing across the stage, “and the same three chords right here,” he continued, holding up his guitar.
Hard to argue with legendary status.