A sliver of glowing green moon loomed above the stage at John Fogerty's sold-out show at the 9:30 club Friday. But considering the strange, spellbinding vibe present during the 100-minute set, that cardboard moon might as well have been a full one.
The voodoo started early -- really early. Fogerty, the solo-happy guitar hero of Creedence Clearwater Revival, arguably the greatest American rock band of all time (think about it), took the stage at 7. That's not rock-and-roll -- that's rush hour.
No matter: A packed, peculiar house of senior citizens and college seniors, hip-swaying hippies and slam-dancing punks -- a truly eccentric mix and credit to Fogerty's longevity, politics and musicianship -- was in place to watch a short pre-show film about the rock icon's turbulent life, then welcome the Berkeley, Calif.-born musician and his four-piece band to the stage.
At 59, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, touring behind new album "Deja Vu All Over Again," looked good: a swept-back mane of auburn hair, a weathered but handsome mug, just a hint of love handles. But the dude sounded downright otherworldly. Really: His swamp-soaked siren of a singing voice hasn't aged at all. It's nothing short of supernatural. When Fogerty kicked things off with a raging "Travelin' Band," faces in the crowd turned to each other with dropped jaws and are-you-kidding-me? looks.
Of course, fans were jacked up for another reason as well. Fogerty was part of the Vote for Change concert in Washington last month, but before that, it had been seven long years since his last album and his last major tour. And before that, Fogerty famously spent long, unproductive stretches of his life embroiled in legal battles with record labels and CCR band mates (including his brother Tom). Even though Fogerty wrote most of CCR's biggest hits, after the band broke up in 1972 and he went solo, he was accused of ripping off his own sound. (When "The Old Man Down the Road," from his 1985 solo album, "Centerfield," was accused of being too similar to CCR's "Run Through the Jungle," he took his guitar to court and gave a witness-stand tutorial on the songmaking process. He won.)
But Fogerty, his vintage howl a vigorous instrument, certainly wasn't a beaten-down man at the 9:30. He was just happy to be back. "Let's have some fun!" he wailed, before energetically unloading song after well-crafted song, hit after blissful CCR hit: "Green River," the Vietnam-era antiwar weeper "Who'll Stop the Rain," "Run Through the Jungle," "Born on the Bayou." (For those still debating CCR's place as the greatest American rock band, consider this: The band was together for only six years!) He teased each number: "Many years ago, I was stuck in a little town in Northern California, so I took some notes," he said before launching classic singalong "Lodi." For solo hit "Centerfield" -- as familiar at Camden Yards as "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" -- he busted out a prop worthy of Carrot Top: a baseball bat guitar. But Fogerty, grimacing with every tricky ax lick, made that juiced Louisville Slugger sing.
The show's mood was upbeat and rollicking (at $55 a ticket for a club show, it darn well should have been), although Fogerty did slow things down for his new number "Deja Vu (All Over Again)."
"I sing this song for families," the steadfastly liberal Fogerty said as the movie screen dropped down to show footage from Vietnam and the war in Iraq. No outright Bush-bashing -- that's never been Fogerty's style -- just a prayer for "the old ghosts rising" and "the dead and dying."
Adding to the night's strange vibe, at the song's end, two fans -- a tall man hooting, a short woman crying -- almost came to blows when the woman thought the hooting was disrespectful. Unfortunately, the high-pitched hooting -- if not disrespectful, then really annoying -- continued, taking away some of the fun from a flurry of show-closing hits: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (yes, he nailed the solo), the heartbreaking "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" and depending on your politics, the still very relevant or still very nasty "Fortunate Son" ("I ain't no president's son!").
For the two-song encore, Fogerty led the crowd in a collective count-off -- "One, two, onetwothreefour!" -- then hammered out "Bad Moon Rising" ("I see trouble on the way," he twanged with a shake of his head) and the rollin'-on-a-river party of "Proud Mary." Just in case Fogerty had another encore in him -- he didn't -- the crowd didn't budge after he trotted off the stage. After all, on a night like this, anything could happen. Plus, it was only 8:40.