ALBUM REVIEW: Creedence Clearwater Revival Lives up to the Legend on ‘Live at Woodstock’

A visceral document of a band at the peak of its prowess, and only getting better.

Fans of Creedence Clearwater Revival, a group considered by many (myself included) to be one of the greatest American bands to walk the earth, have waited a long time to hear their set from Woodstock. Was it worth the wait? The answer is an unqualified “YES!,” with an added, “What took so long?!”

We’ll probably never know the answer to the second question, given how many published variations of those reasons exist. All of that is moot now. What remains now is to simply play the record (loudly!) and celebrate it finally seeing the light of day.

To put this concert in its proper context: in the Summer of ’69, Creedence was touring in support of their third album, Green River, which had come out mere days before the now-legendary festival. With three tremendous records and years of playing together under their belts, Creedence was finally reaping the fruits of their labor. This was a band whose time had come and the sweetheart headlining slot for Saturday night was to be their golden ticket to superstardom.

(Before I get to the next paragraph, isn’t it hard to imagine a time when songs like “Fortunate Son,” “Down on the Corner” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain” didn’t yet exist? I was born half a year after this concert, and CCR has been a part of my life from day one, so the concept is kind of surreal.)

Except it didn’t happen that way. Reality crashed the show in the form of delays, technical difficulties, and a Grateful Dead set that went way over time and put much of the crowd to sleep (a common occurrence at Dead shows, or so I’m told).

Creedence responds to these challenges with raging aplomb. Starting the show, as they normally did, with the barn-burner “Born on the Bayou,” the band flies out the gate on almost all four cylinders. Apparent technical difficulties forced Creedence to play as a trio while Tom Fogerty’s rhythm guitar is somehow missing from the mix (foreshadowing things to come in a little over a year after this performance). About halfway through the song, the his guitar chimes in and the Fogerty brothers’ twin-guitar attack rings loud and clear.

This is as good a place as any to state that Tom Fogerty’s rhythm guitar was as integral to the sound of Creedence as anything else in this great band’s chemistry. I would even go so far as to say it was the most important element. His rock-solid playing lays the foundation for one of the heaviest rhythm sections in rock & roll—Stu Cook and Doug Clifford—and allows brother John to wail in every sense of the word while the engine that is the band continues to chug along. Kudos to the reissue producers for highlighting Tom Fogerty’s playing throughout this concert.

This performance is so incendiary it’s not a stretch to say that some of these tracks have even greater intensity than their corresponding album versions; no small feat given John Fogerty’s studio perfectionism. This is especially true of gems like “Commotion”—which is as close to punk as Creedence ever got—“The Night Time is the Right Time”—proving John Fogerty is one of the greatest shouters of his generation—and “Bootleg”—which is probably the best showcase of Tom Fogerty’s aforementioned rhythm guitar skills.

But the intensity gets knocked to the stratosphere by the show closer and encore, respectively, “Keep on Chooglin’” and “Suzie Q.”

Music doesn’t get much simpler than the one-chord boogie of “Chooglin” and it’s a testament to this band that they can play it for 10 minutes and leave you breathless. Not an easy task. Most other bands would’ve run out of steam before the second minute. Not Creedence. Tom plays that E7 chord with laser-like focus, Cook and Clifford supply the beat without a single misstep, while John wails, shouts and plays like his life depends on it. This was a band that was as tight on the road as they were in the studio, and you can hear it.

“Suzie Q” closes everything with another ferocious extended jam, with Creedence playing with the same passion and fire with which they started the show.

Simply stated, Live At Woodstock is a visceral document of a band at the peak of its prowess, and only getting better. As a live album, it annihilates the other two official recordings currently available. This one ranks right up there with the Jimi Hendrix set (available in all kinds of formats) and the Sly & The Family Stone set (out of print but available digitally) as essential sets to own from Woodstock.

If you’re a Creedence fan, you absolutely need this album. If all you’ve ever heard from Creedence is what gets played on classic rock radio, then buy this album and hear the legend explained musically by four guys playing as one unstoppable unit.

Score: ☮️☮️☮️☮️☮️ / 5

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