Monday, May 23, 2011

Superb John Fogerty set caps Doheny Blues Fest 14

This review was originally posted on The Orange County Register Web site earlier today. A special "thank you" to Omega Events for the access to shoot photos throughout the event.

There was truly something for everybody during Day 2 of the 14th annual Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point, which played out on May 22.

For those who skipped church Sunday morning, legendary singer Mavis Staples (pictured above with her band guitarist Rick Holmstrom) delivered an inspired set steeped in gospel and old-school rhythm ‘n’ blues. For those looking for traditional roots, an acoustic set from B.B. & the Blues Shacks and a 90-minute celebration of pioneer Robert Johnson fit the bill. And for those seeking jaw-dropping guitar work, singer and six-string virtuoso Walter Trout produced that and more. Americana fans even got a sonic dish, thanks to a super-sized set from the original lineup of rockabilly revivalists the Blasters.

But more on all that in a bit, for the crowning set of the day was the much-anticipated return of John Fogerty. Those who caught his unforgettable set here in May 2007, his only other appearance at Doheny, need not have feared that lightning wouldn’t strike twice: this headlining return Sunday evening conjured up the same magic of that night four years ago, then proved that his current show is even stronger.

Serving up a fast-paced set that clocked in at more than 90 minutes, Fogerty and his excellent band — including singer-guitarist James Intveld and one of the world’s best rock drummers, Kenny Aronoff — tore through two dozen gems pulled equally from Creedence Clearwater Revival hits, his ’80s comeback era and his recent country-folk material. And while plenty of people came to Doheny to celebrate the 100th birthday of Robert Johnson (the Mississippi bluesman would have hit the century mark on May 8), Fogerty honored Roy Orbison‘s 75th with a faithful and fitting version of “Oh, Pretty Woman.”

Now nearly 65, Fogerty shows no signs of slowing down. He ran around the stage like a young man a third his age, tearing up on one guitar solo after another; his voice, too, remains more intact than any other rocker’s from his era. To boot, his genuine personality brightens his performances in a way that defies detached rock-star cool that I think hurts many Hall of Famers in their twilight years.

And talk about a set list! From the opening “Hey Tonight” to a rousing one-two punch of an encore with “Bad Moon Rising” and “Proud Mary,” Fogerty hit all the high points. With the exception of “Sweet Hitch-Hiker” and his jammed-out version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” he and his band played all of this writer’s favorites Sunday night.

Lovers of Americana-flavored nuggets heard wonderful versions of “Lodi,” “Green River” and “Born on the Bayou.” His emotive voice brought real depth to timeless acoustic-guitar-anchored classics like “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?,” “Long as I Can See the Light” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” and he flat-out rocked the beach with “Fortunate Son” and “Keep On Chooglin’.” I could rave plenty more about this brilliant festival-ending set, but the key thing is to encourage every rock fan who hasn’t yet seen Fogerty live lately to do so as soon as possible.

The day’s other highly-anticipated performance also didn’t disappoint: the original lineup of Downey purists the Blasters performed with all the power of their early ’80s shows.

For one day, brothers Dave (on guitar) and Phil Alvin (rhythm guitar, lead vocals), plus keyboardist-singer Gene Taylor (who flew in from England for this fest) and the band’s rhythm section of John Bazz (bass) and Bill Bateman (drums) got together and demonstrated what always made them such a great band. “Dark Night,” “I’m Shakin’” and “Marie Marie” were among the highlights of the quintet’s 80-minute set, with the crowd pushing against the stage hoping the reunion might never end.

The meeting of the “Big Head Blues Club,” featuring Big Head Todd & the Monsters with guests Charlie Musselwhite and Cedric Burnside, admirably honored Johnson’s landmark compositions (all of his existing recordings were released on a special two-disc Centennial Collection set last month by Sony Legacy). Standouts included singer-guitarist Todd Park Mohr (pictured above) delivering a slightly electrified version of “Come on in My Kitchen” and, with the full array of players, a rousing version of “Cross Road Blues.”

Huntington Beach hero Trout, meanwhile, continues to garner new fans as the style of guitar playing he has championed since the early ’70s continues its ever-burgeoning popularity; indeed, Joe Bonamassa‘s approach owes a debt to Trout’s template.

On Sunday afternoon, he demonstrated that his original heavy-hitting blues-rock, packed with lyrical insight, affecting vocals and extraordinary fretwork, has widespread appeal in 2011. From his chronicle of Surf City (“Life in the Jungle”) to his beautifully sung plea for the world to find some “Common Ground,” Trout’s set was an artistic home run.

Staples, 71, began her recording career back at the dawn of the ’50s as a member of Chicago’s venerable Staple Singers. More than six decades later, she still has the ability to thrill an audience with her powerful, soulful vocals.

At Doheny, she was backed by three singers and a sparse three-man band that really brought her gospel blues to life. Her set-opening “Wonderful Savior” and rousing “Creep Along Moses” (both from her Jeff Tweedy-enhanced, Grammy-winning 2010 album You Are Not Alone) celebrated her faith in a joyous spirit, while a version of the Band‘s classic “The Weight” (which she helped sing for a studio side of that group’s The Last Waltz) brought additional intensity to her set.

Early in the day, I got to check out singer-guitarist Ana Popovic for a few songs. She proved to be an enthusiastic and talented artist, with her skills playing lead, rhythm and slide guitar all put to good use. She is also a good singer, but it was her solid guitar work that thrilled the crowd.

Throughout the day, a trio of acts performed laid-back but impressive sets on the Backporch Stage. I was able to squeeze in a few minutes for each, all of them attracting large crowds that cheered on the Americana/Latin/blues-rock of David Hidalgo and Cesar Rojas of Los Lobos (who also appeared Saturday as part of the Experience Hendrix tribute) as well as the aforementioned Burnside and B.B. & the Blues Shacks.

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