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Concert Reviews:
Fogerty, Nelson Offer American Music Primer At DTE

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Saturday, August 19, 2006

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- At first blush there's nothing particularly academic about "Whiskey River" or "Green River" -- or even "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." But in the co-headlining hands of John Fogerty and Willie Nelson on Friday night at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, those and 49 other songs became a spirited study in American music of the past half century.

The two performers are icons representing different periods and styles -- with a bit overlap, of course -- that collectively comprised a nearly complete contemporary cultural retrospective. Nelson's 27-song, 65-minute set was an Americana smorgasbord spanning country, jazz, gospel, blues and R&B, while Fogerty worked from a rockabilly base but blended flavors from hard rock, twang and Motown. The twain met early in Fogerty's nearly two-hour, 25-song show, when Nelson joined the former Creedence Clearwater Revival leader and his five-piece band for a rendition of Hank Williams' Cajun-scented "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" that had both men smiling broadly throughout the songs.

Unfortunately, the DTE audience didn't quite share their bonhomme. Though the double bill was complementary and even illuminating for the open-minded, a good chunk of the crowd called it a night early, either after Nelson's performance set or shortly into Fogerty's -- although, to be fair, the near-metal volume of the latter's attack appeared to drive some of his fans out along with Nelson's.

That was a shame because it was as good a show as Fogerty has delivered since his return to active touring in 1997. Bolstered by the return of thunderous drummer Kenny Aronoff, Fogerty and company rocked hard and with the gusto of teenage musicians playing a rec center dance. And it certainly didn't hurt that they were working with one of the great American rock songbooks, whether it was rock staples penned by Fogerty ("Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising," "Fortunate Son," "Centerfield") or familiar Creedence-style covers of Leadbelly's "The Midnight Special" or Marvin Gaye's "...Grapevine."

While Fogerty kept his arrangements familiar for most of the night, he did make a few alterations. "Lodi" received a revved-up rock 'n' roll treatment, while Fogerty's solo acoustic rendition of the anti-war paean "Deja Vu (All Over Again)" made it that much more poignant. And the more obscure "Ramble Tamble" was one of the night's highlights, with a twangy melody leading into a psychedelic jam -- which featured a lengthy guitar solo by Bob Britt -- before returning to the song's main pattern.

With its laid back, offhanded ambience, Nelson's portion of the evening didn't have the same ferocity as Fogerty's. Instead he and his six-piece Family band genially rolled through an overview of his catalog, another body of timeless favorites such as "On the Road Again," "Georgia on My Mind," "Always On My Mind," "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" and "Crazy" -- most accented by solos from Nelson's famously battered acoustic guitar.

Nelson also paid tribute to compatriots such as Merle Haggard ("Working Man's Blues"), Kris Kristofferson ("Me and Bobby McGee") and the late Waylon Jennings ("Good Hearted Woman"), debuted a humorous new songs ("Super Man," "You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore") and embraced some spirituality with "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "I Saw The Light" before closing with, of all things, a polka ("Roll Out the Barrel").

So there was plenty of intellectual perspective be gained from the three and a half hours of music Fogerty and Nelson presented on Friday. But it sounded just as good if all you wanted to do was listen.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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