The classic rock that has always run deep and hard through Dave Grohl's post-Nirvana juggernaut Foo Fighters came out at an odd, exhilarating moment during the band's November 13th show at New York's Madison Square Garden. Eighties hardcore icon Bob Mould, the ex-singer-guitarist of Hüsker Dü, was on stage reprising his vocal cameo in "Dear Rosemary" on the Foos' latest album, Wasting Light (RCA), when the guitar riff of "Breakdown" from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 1976 debut LP creeped into the din. Mould and Grohl were soon howling that song's chorus like happy wild dogs, without a shred of punk-cred irony.
The whole night was vintage delirium: the exaggerated passions and projection of arena rock, at the manic pitch and velocity of punk and speed metal. Grohl played front man with a drummer's energy and demonstrative zeal: belting every song like a shredded-larynx blend of Bruce Springsteen and AC/DC's Bon Scott; slashing at his guitar as he raced through the crowd, down a canyon on the floor to a B stage at the back of the hall. There were super-gizmo lights and that second stage rose so high, during Grohl's mini-acoustic set there, that he was eye-to-eye with the fans in the mezzanine. The best special effect, though: a sickly-green night-vision video of Grohl teasing the crowd from backstage before the encores, with an impressively arched eyebrow and hellhound glare. You couldn't miss the rock & roll devil in there.
Noel Gallagher's Solo Trip
I never thought I'd miss the sour sight of Oasis singer Liam Gallagher, stalking a stage with joyless bravado. But I did, briefly, as I watched his older brother, Oasis songwriter-guitarist Noel Gallagher adjusting to the spotlight with his new band, High Flying Birds, on November 15th at the Beacon Theater. The songs from his solid solo album, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds (Sour Mash), frontloaded in the set, never moved far from mid-tempo, and Noel's voice, a lighter cleaner counterpoint in Oasis to his kin's menacing-Lennon whine, sounded too straight and narrow, at first, for the long haul. Used to leading Oasis from the side of the stage, Noel looked more determined than delighted as he sang, forced to the front not by choice but by the miserable end of his former band.
But then, with an acoustic guitar, Noel sang Oasis' "Supersonic" like the guy he was when he wrote it – charged by Sixties British-pop fundamentals, sure of his own destiny – and the show hit a steady warming gear, in new songs and old ("Talk Tonight," "Little By Little"). The most charming part of the night was the crowd's loud vocal devotion between songs and at the end, when he handed the fans choral duties in "Don't Look Back in Anger." This audience had stuck with the Gallaghers through all of their dramas and missed chances in the U.S., and they were determined to show Noel they were not turning away now.
A Black Crowe Flies The Low-Key Way
On November 17th at Irving Plaza, Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson played his 99th show with his new group, Chris Robinson Brotherhood – an impressive milestone for a band just launched last spring with, Robinson told me backstage, a few days' rehearsal. By the time I got there, a couple of songs into the two-set three-hour gig, I felt like I'd walked into a "Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day," as Doug Sahm once sang: a cosmic-California daydream at rolling-river tempo, with Robinson guiding the vibe with his Dixie-Steve Marriott delivery and lyric faith in the nirvana just around the corner.
The Brotherhood includes Black Crowes keyboard player Adam MacDougall, drummer George Sluppnick, bassist Muddy and guitarist Neal Casal from Ryan Adams' Cardinals, and the repertoire is sweet-hypnosis segues in and out of fresh originals, Black Crowes numbers, songs from Robinson's earlier solo records and day-glo-roots covers. In the middle of the first set, the band eased like a breeze from Hoyt Axton's "Never Been to Spain" (a hit for Three Dog Night) to the Grateful Dead's "Bertha" via a new gem, "Star or Stone." The second set opened in deep space – a long acid-jam trip through "Girl on the Mountain," from Robinson's 2004 album, This Magnificent Distance – and featured two jumps back to the Crowes, "Roll Old Jeremiah" and the fine Before the Frost ballad "Last Place That Love Lives."
There is no album yet; the Brotherhood go into the studio in January to make their first record. In the meantime, they are touring hard, under the radar – a new band with old-school values and explorer's spirit. And you can buy live shows to go at livechrisrobinsonbrotherhood.com. Robinson personally recommends a November 4th date in Oxford, Mississippi – Crowes guitarist Luther Dickinson is the burning guest all over the second set.
John Fogerty is making up for lost time, big time. The singer-guitarist and non-stop-hit songwriter in Creedence Clearwater Revival spent so many years off the road after the band's 1972 breakup, refusing to play most of those hits because of epic litigation with his old band and label, that he now plays, as belated compensation, almost nothing but the Creedence catalog in concert.
This is not a problem. Of American rock's great late-Sixties songwriters, Fogerty was one of the closest to Bob Dylan in roots, storytelling and no-party politics. Fogerty was also the most effortlessly commercial. His current shows are of the whole-vintage-album variety and on November 18th at the Beacon Theater (the second of two dates there), he opened with the 1969 Number One, Green River. But virtually every Creedence song Fogerty played for nearly two hours was a Top Ten A-side, charting B-side or FM album-track hit between 1968 and 1971. And it was like watching a living jukebox have the time of his life. Fogerty sang and soloed through "Proud Mary," "Born on the Bayou," "Commotion," "Hey Tonight" and "Green River" with an improbably strong voice (Fogerty is 66) and that singular slicing CCR treble.
Fogerty, it turns out, has a lot of inner ham. He taunted guitar nuts in the crowd with a stand-up routine starring his old CCR rig – a Kustom amp and six-string Rickenbacker – and a brief snatch of "Suzie Q.. But there was revelation in his raps. (One of them: He wrote "Bad Moon Rising" after watching the 1941 film, The Devil and Daniel Webster). And Fogerty's vocal in Green River's "Wrote a Song for Everyone" illiustrated the song's enduring hope and disappointment much better than the old Sixties-protest video behind him. "Somebody said it's different now, look, it's just the same," he sang like a man very much of his time – then and now.