John Denver is a wild and natural kind of guy. Yeah, boy! He sings about the great outdoors -- green rivers, clear skies and mountains. He wants to fly like an eagle. He'd rather be a cowboy than an L.A. freeway jockey. He just goes crazy about Christmas, West Virginia and true luv. "Thank God," he sings, "I'm a country boy."
Shucks. If John Denver were any more down home, he'd be down and out. As it is, however, he is a perfectly packaged show-biz slickie who pedals his homey wares for city slickers.
His show last night at the Merriweather Post Pavilion (where he will also be appearing tonight) was as smooth as Dacron polyester, tasty as margarine and as exciting as a 10-minute shoppers' special at K-Mart. Backed by an orchestral string section and a nine-piece group and ensconced on a stage with a forest-green backdrop and potted palms, Denver served up heapin' helpin's of folksy ditties and homespun monologues that reached new heights of corny crassness.
On "Sleeping Alone," a country ballad, he reminded everyone that even a millionaire is sometimes forced to sleep alone (a comforting thought if ever there was one, by gosh). And "Country Road" . . . well, what can anyone really say about that touching paean to the simple pleasures of the Pepsi generation.
Oddly enough, Denver was kinder to the songs of others than to his own. Pete Seeger's "Bells of Rimney" was given a sensitive and almost emotional reading, and his version of "Home on the Range" was downright moving.
But for every high, like an old Stephen Foster song in four-part harmony, there was a wagonload of lows, such as "Rocky Mountain High." He reduced a John Prine howler to a cutesy, cuddly, novelty number and his version of "Memphis" was stale and listless. "Rock 'n' roll!" he yelled after the song. Sure, John.
A footnote to this good-ole-boys show. For those who were forced to stand in the rain for the first part of the performance, there is a simple explanation. According to a spokesman for Merriweather Post, Denver's management insisted that anyone arriving late not be seated until after the fourth song -- otherwise, they might destroy Denver's concentration. Ah, there's nothing like the great outdoors, especially when you're soaking wet.