When I was growing up in New York City, Creedence Clearwater Revival was the closest we ever got to America. Their stream of Top Forty singles — each with a homely, supple guitar riff pulling it into focus — tapped into the notion of rugged populism the way the Band summed up the idea of the loner. John Fogerty's songs made protest seem patriotic and good times sound just as essential as getting by, while giving other, less self-consciously frenetic parts of the country an almost tangible, smoky presence. And Fogerty's own homey slur lent credence to the anyone-can-do-it, dare-you democracy that was always supposed to be (but usually wasn't) at the heart of both the nation and rock & roll.
These days, the nearest equivalent to Creedence's grass-roots anthems are Bruce Springsteen's less mystical, more mythic urban sagas, so it's only fitting that Springsteen has been covering "Who'll Stop the Rain" in concert. His version is brash, dashing and suitably bittersweet, but it makes you long for another dose of the original. Thank goodness, then, for Creedence Clearwater Revival's The Concert, newly mined from the vaults of Fantasy, a live album that captures the group circa 1970 — all raw edges, roar and spunk. If the populist gusto of John Fogerty's tunes hasn't dated a bit, neither has the band's bluesy drive. This LP (recorded in California, not London, as was first claimed) finds Creedence playing like new blood brothers, with the kind of companionable leeway that's more affecting than precision. Fogerty's vocals are a mixture of wolf howls, amiable hunkering and linked-arms strut.
The Concert would be an instant bargain even if it were only a nostalgia item: a $5.98 list price for fifty minutes of music, including a chugging "Night Time Is the Right Time," several raunchy jams (a nine-minute whirl through "Keep on Chooglin'," for example) and fine, gritty treatments of almost every Creedence Clearwater Revival hit you can name, from "Travelin' Band" to "Green River" to an especially pithy "Fortunate Son." Myself, I miss "Lodi," but what the hell? The Concert is such an unexpected, you-can-go-home-again pleasure that nobody should quibble.