You bounce around the blues long enough and you get religion. Happens to the best of them, you can only hope they grow out of it. Jonny Lang, now 24 years old, is 10 years into his recording/performing career and 5 years into his marriage and NOW he's looking for a reason to believe. I jest. Sorta.
Cece has been a big fan of Jonny Lang since the clean-shaven youngster first burst onto the national scene with his superb second album Lie To Me. He's up to #5 now as Turn Around is slated for release in September. The novelty of his youth has worn off so it will be interesting to see if he's developed into a captivating performer.
Initially this weekend was going to be filled with friends and food and booze, to go along with the music. It's been pared down somewhat as a couple friends who'd planned to attend months ago, found they had other committments more recently. A Sunday 'day trip' into Boston for lunch and walking was put aside when a series of events converged to make alternate plans more appealing: big chunks of the Boston tunnel system either failed or were suspect, throwing area traffic into a tizzy; John Fogerty showed up at a venue halfway home; the past few weekends on the road have taken their toll and i'm waking up to the alarm clock way too often.
We're on the road at mid-day, hoping to miss both rush-hour and border traffic, aiming for the nondescript town of Utica, NY. In what is becoming a ritual as we cross this section of NYState, we stop in at Delmonico's for dinner and a couple of Ole Blue Eyes martini's. Cece is with the pasta dish again as I take my one opportunity a week to consume some beef, ordering the filet mignon. But it's the warm martini that keeps me coming back.
On Saturday we elect to veer off the Interstate at Albany. The I90 dips south to near Boston before coming back north towards our destination in New Hampshire. It adds a few miles and takes less time but offers not much chance to stop and stare. The freeways are soul-sucking. There used to be a time they were liberating. Before the commute to work...before the donuts in the cities...back when we were still living in the garden and fuel was cheap. Ahhh, the 50's, anybody else miss them? Now they are simply clogged arteries feeding the major centers. To see America, you gotta take the road less traveled.
Which in this area is Route 7 East to the tiny artists community of Bennington VT, which is where we stopped for a rest and a cappucino at a South St. cafe. Funky little town that gets it's winter revenue from skiers and summer revenue from hippies revisiting their youth.
Further on down the road, we're on Route 9 driving through the Green Mountain range of Vermont. Lots of terrific scenery in these hills as Cece and I stop at the top of Hogback Mountain for a lookout before heading down the other side and a lunch stop in Peterborough, NH. Yet another artists community. Everything that isn't a city in these areas is a Woodstock-knockoff. Not like that's a bad thing. Had a great turkey/guacamole sandwich here at the award winning Harlow's Pub. This little hamlet is crawling with eateries and bars. It looks like a 'good time' town for sure.
We arrive at our modest digs in mid-afternoon. Time for a drink and a one hour drive into the vacation community of Hampton Beach. Originally we were booked to stay in town for two nights. Circumstances alter cases and we found ourselves with a new schedule and only one night to spend in NH. We abrogated the "two night minimum" rule which is why we're in Mancherster. Except for missing out on meeting some friends it turned out to be a fortuitous change.
This is a whole different culture, the American 'beach' town, than anything we have in Canada. We have these communities, a few, spotted around our vast land, but we don't have the 'culture' associated with the lifestyle. No Pallisades Park, no Atlantic City, no Coney Island, no Rockaway Beach...these are American signposts. And if they're all like Hampton Beach, it's a pretty vacant landscape. The beach is lovely, if crowded beyond enjoyment. It's a bit late in the day right now so there is some space but given the unending line of traffice on the 1/4 mile main strip, I'd guess they were packed in like sardines at noon. The town itself is like a carnival. It smells like a carnival anyway, all taffy and popcorn and franks. Kinda tacky. But the beach is right there. And the majestic blue ocean. And the tight-skinned girls in bikini's, so it's not all bad. And it ain't all to be had, either, not by far. I take a minute to walk out and dip my hand in the cool water. Get repaid with a shoeful of wet sand. Even trade.
Plenty of time until doors at the Hampton Beach Casino. It's not a real 'casino'. That's just an Indian word for 'big wooden barn near water'. We' duck into the Sea Ketch for an early dinner.
See, catch the pun? That should have been a sign like the episode of Cheers where Cliff Claven takes the boys out to a place that serves 'roast bif'.
Cece, ever the smart one, opts for some pasta again. I'm thinking that fish 'n chips is safe. Well I've had worse meals. Make that A worse meal. I ordered a hamburger in Glasgow once and got a battered-deep-fried-beef-puck with some dicey spices. No bun. No mustard. Didn't really resemble anything I'd come to know as a 'hamburger'. The fries were excellent though, so it was half a meal. Here the fries were frozen only a few minutes before serving. As for the fish, I can live with the demise of the noble halibut, either haddock or cod will do in a pinch, but what is this???? The batter is soggy and tasteless. That's why they put the 'beer' in beer batter! I think they were previously frozen as well. What a horrific meal.
Oh, well, time for some drinks and music. Metal detectors at the door are once again foiled and we have time to imbibe a bit before the main act. Jonny Lang is letting his second-guitarist open with a half hour solo set. He looks like the geek from Sloan, plays a few neat riffs, but preaches way too much. Even sucks us into listening to a Christian song by promising some 'rock n roll' about 15 minutes into the set. Had me focussed for a bit. He does close with a crowd-pleaser, a very enjoyable version of Hey Jude, which is saying a ton 'cause I hate that song.
Not very good seating arrangements in this barn. Cafeteria seating. Loud metal chairs and tightly packed tables. Fearing the worse when the show comes on, a constant scraping of the floor as people move about, I choose to stand under the speaker banks where I'm joined by an assortment of drunks, debutantes and dilettantes. I mean that pejoratively. Pre-show entertainment is provided by a post-pubescent, slightly inebriated, blonde who is showing her girlfriends the fine art of oral sex using a beer bottle to demonstrate. Mr & Miss Prissy, a 30-something couple from Hoboken, NJ take offence and voice it. Other girl in the party, the brunette with a smile like a magnet, screams back: "Wait'll you see my boobies!" Yup, think I've found my spot for the show.
Without much ado Jonny Lang is onstage with a paired down ensemble. Himself, a drummer and a bass player. Three songs in I still haven't heard anything familiar and I'm mostly thinking about the facial expressions lead guitarists make and how they have little place in the art of performing music. OK, Hendrix was whacked on acid and probably didn't even know his guitar was on fire, so there's an excuse for his expressions. BB King is freakin' 80 years old so we'll give him that scrunched-up-prune-face thing just out respect for his longevity. Everybody else runs the risk of looking either crazed or constipated. Plus, I seriously believe Jonny could be lounging on his couch in his ninja turtles jammies, with his Star Troopers puffy-slippers, guitar sitting in his lap, and burn of a riff that'll strip the eyelids off your face. No need for the affectations on stage. Sometimes I let observations like this ruin entire concerts for me...but not tonight. That'll be taken care of from the stage.
Finally, a flicker of recognition as the band launches into a hot version of A Quitter Never Wins. The trio has been joined onstage by another guitarist and a keyboardist to fill out the band.
Jonny's guitar playing is very impressive, even if his song selection leaves something to be desired. He's right up there with Jack White and Charlie Sexton when it comes to my own exposure to the position. He changes guitars for every song, which might be a little precocious, but I guess the virtuouso's get like that.
After that brief respite we're back into the no-mans-land of unknown songs. I know Cece is a little better versed in his catalogue but we're still getting a healthy dose of the yet to be released album with the Christian themes. I'm not feelin' very Christian these days as I see the philosophy has been hijacked and put to bad use. (OK, pop quiz: What "days" is the author talking about? 313 AD? 787AD? the 1300's? the 1500's? during the Jesuit onslaught of the post-discovery years? those friendly slave-ownin'/witch huntin' Christians of colonial America? the Reagan years? or Dubya's more recent crusade? See? It's not easy being nice if these guys can't do it.)
Stepping down from soapbox.
Jonny shoulda played more familiar tunes. He could have dropped a few covers into the set. Or a few more covers, as his take on Stevie Wonder's Living In the City was a highlight of the evening. If he wasn't inclined to do that, at least a couple more songs from his breakthrough, and to date the album that marks the apex of his career, Lie To Me.
We did get the title song in the encore and a soulful version of When I Come To You but sadly missed Hit the Ground Running or Rack Em Up. I also missed the brunettes boobies if they made an appearance as I had to move about 12 feet to avoid the Moron Tabernac Choir that started singing along. Overall I give the show a 5/10. The drummer was excellent. Hard pounding, light on the bass, heavy on the skins and cymbals. Jonny's playing and singing was as advertised, excellent and improving. Worth another show in a venue more conducive to listening, perhaps.
Long ride on Sunday to reach Darien Lake NY for tonights show. All Interstate, no fun at all. Last time here we saw Dylan and the Dead, and as always, the DeadHeads brought their two-hour traffic jam with 'em. None this time, clear sailing right into the non-preferred, takes-two-hours-to-exit, far lot. No metal detectors here and I didn't even offer up my bag for inspection. Nor did I get stopped. Hope these guys never get a job at the airport. Cece is tasting a margarita while I quaff a cold beer and watch the crowd.
Excellent seats tonight, dead center, just to the right of the soundboard. Willie's onstage 5 minutes early. Doesn't have the sons with him this tour, just the same raggedy collection of 2nd cousins and that Mickey Raphael guy on harmonica. Willie's crowd is loud and proud and not very attentive. Cece and I are bracketed by two couples who are at their first concert since the kids got out of diapers. The kids have kids now. Both of them talked right through the songs and then applauded or whistled loudly. That's incongruous to me. Either you care enough to shut-the-fuck-up during the songs or you don't. If you don't, then there's no need for the applause. Am I missing something here? It's our good fortune that neither of them return for Fogerty's set.
Willie's just willie. Harmless fluff. Got no idea how he got the reputation he has as an American Legend. I mean, I like his politics, I even like his tunes, but c'mon, he treats every song with a casual disdain for the heart and soul of the lyrics. Clap-a-long, sing-a-long...arrrrgggggghhhhh, I can do that at home. The guy on my right probably would have sung the songs for me for free ... actually, he did, which didn't make it more enjoyable. He almost connected a couple times, most notably on the songs that contained the word "Buffalo" (nearby major American city). So that's a cheap score at best. Still, he's still movin', and that's smile inducing. We did get a more engaged version of the new song, Superman, that he wrote while recovering from being old. And all the hits to boot, as always, 'cause it's the same show I've caught 8 previous times with little change. I cring when I have to note I've seen Willie more often than any other band except for Bob Dylan and Jack White, but it doesn't hurt that much. Of course 8 of those times were opening for Bob and the 9th is tonight so it's not like the needles' just stuck or something.
John Fogerty! #641 on my list of things-to-do-before-i-die. Loved CCR, right from the swamp to that acid stuff in the early '70's. Never got the chance to see them live. This evening was a suitable replacement. Now here's a guy who knows how to treat his fans. The wait between sets was a little long, almost 50 minutes, which means, had i closed my eyes at the beginning of the Willie set I could have had a two-hour nap. After lights go down we waste no time getting to the good stuff and the torrent of music does not abate until the closing chords of Proud Mary.
John opens fast and furious with the raucous Travellin' Band. This was one of the first CCR songs I took to that was released after I became aware of them. The early, cajun music, I took a while to cotton too. This rock stuff struck a chord the first time out.
Making sure we understand where the night is going he follows that with that muddy paeon to youth and Huck Finn, Green River. If "barefoot girls dancin' in the moonlight" doesn't do it for you then just "pick up a flat rock and skip it across the Green River". Two songs and he's already summed up Creedence Clearwater's entire oeuvre. Almost.
A little nod out to the hippies with a Woodstock story. John takes the time out to clarify he didn't play this song at the Fair, he wrote it about the Fair. Not sure why that was necessary unless memory loss is a by-product of living in the '60's. Any excuse for Who'll Stop the Rain is ok in my book.
Bang, smash, into major treat #1 for the evening, a rocking, rolling, version (is there any other?) of It Came Out Of The Sky. A slam at greed of all kinds and what happens when there's only one of something. Don't matter, feels good to hear it. Hope Jodi holds out for the 17 million.
Willie Nelson comes back on to duet on a very passable Jambalaya. Fogerty, straight up, would have made this major treat #2 but that'll have to wait a bit.
More swamp music from the master in Born On the Bayou, followed by a wall-of-sound attack on Commotion. The tempo stays at breakneck speed with Rambunctious Boy before we get that aforementioned treat #2.
Lookin' Out My Backdoor has to be one of the all-time great summer drive feel good songs. Right up there with Mungo Jerry's In the Summertime. A mind-altering, mood-altering romp through time and space. Crazy shit, so enjoyable it should be illegal.
Fogerty's delivered a lot already and points to a stuffed, scarecrow that was part of the Jack Daniel's tent, saying: "Look at that guy, he's not moving at all." Then asking, "what do i got to do?!?!!??" Workin' the audience like we're sitting in his living room.
Some newer, or less known, or post-CCR, tunes; Hot Rod Heart, Bootleg and Deja Vu, wrap themselves around a couple great funky tunes in an extended Ramble Tamble and the smile inducing, I Heard It Through The Grapevine.
John introduces the featured guitarist as Billy Burnette. Qu'elle surprise. He'd had a brief and forgetable stint in Bob Dylan's road band back in the spring of 2003. It was his misfortune to replace Charlie Sexton at the helm. A hard act to follow even if you're given the time to develop. As it was he got a dozen or so shows in Australia and was replaced by the bluesy Frenchman, Freddy Koela. He's much more in his element here, able to display his rockabilly heart and chops.
Family talk about his 4 year old blonde, blue eyed daughter, who has been featured on the screens at side stage all night, and his not much older, blonde blue eyed wife before he launches into the totally unrelated Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
Some talk through the show about the Vietnam War and how the past seems to be repeating itself, received moderately well by the audience but there's not much melodrama tonight as Keep On Chooglin' and Rock and Rolls Girls gets our mind back to the matter at hand.
The show closes strong with hit after hit as Fogerty unveils Down on The Corner, and you can just see raggedy Willie blowin' harp for your nickels. All of the CCR catalogue is prone to 'mondegreens' but I've misheard : "doubles on kazoo" as "devil's on the loose" for years. Still prefer my version. Superb guitar in this song, instantly recognizable riff just sends shivers of joy through your body. Fogerty's a very active 61 year old, seems to be having the time of his life.
Centerfield, with the 'baseball bat' guitar is slightly marred by some fumbled lyrics to open and an extended break when Fogerty makes a foray into the audience to fetch some flowers from a fawning female fan. Fortunate Son shock-rocks us back to the real world and in the encore, Proud Mary promises that the wheels will keep on turnin'.
Not much absent from this set. Energy to spare, good times , old times and time to get to the vehicle before the large mass of the crowd. We exit the grounds in a record 15 minutes!
A lot of miles, some hits and misses but always a joy to be able...
Next up: Robert Gordon (w/ Chris Spedding) in Toronto