The 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival is approaching in August and two bands (with a few original members) along with an artist who graced that stage honored this milestone in history with an appearance at the Seaside Summer Concert Series in Brooklyn, New York on July 16.
John Sebastian (“The Lovin’ Spoonful”) “Mountain” and “Creedence Clearwater Revisited” took us back to the days of tie-dyed shirts and free love with a show that brought back timeless memories and created new ones.
Guitarist Ben Phillips began the evening, under threatening skies, performing a drawn out and inferior version of Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” that left the crowd annoyed and hungry for the trio of billed performers.
The first artist of the evening, John Sebastian, a Greenwich Village native, took the stage with his acoustic guitar and tried to take the crowd back to the days of Folk-Rock and three minute hits. Sebastian, who began his career as a harmonica accompanist for Fred Neil, later was a member of the “Mugwumps” (immortalized in the Mamas and the Papas song, “Creeque Alley”) and eventually formed the Lovin’ Spoonful with the late Zal Yanovsky (guitar), Joe Butler (drummer-vocalist) and Steve Boone (bass).Their good- time folk –rock jug band sound dominated the radio airwaves from 1965-1968. Their hits, “Do You Believe in Magic, “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” and “Summer in the City” are examples of melodic and concise pop music perfection.
Sebastian, 65, was not in good voice, but carried on like a brave soldier giving the crowd his all. Wearing a tie –dyed shirt and his trademark round glasses, he gave his set a boost by playing his “Welcome Back Kotter” theme song, which chronicles the main character of the show, Mr. Kotter (Gabe Kaplan), returning to his Brooklyn roots as a teacher. Though Sebastian’s voice is a pale reminder of past glory, his guitar work was exemplary. “Do You Believe in Magic” and “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” followed, but lacked pizzazz without jangling electric guitars and pristine harmonies that the “Spoonful” employed on the original recordings. “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind,” “Daydream” and an encore of “Darling Be Home Soon” were other Lovin’ Spoonful classics performed. Ironically, a couple of high points were a recent song, “Strings of Your Heart,” an ode to guitars, and a dynamite harmonica solo.
Sebastian’s infectious personality won over the assembled with poignant anecdotes like recounting his listening to Martha Reeves and the Vandella’s “Heatwave,” rearranging chords and changing the tempo to create “Do You Believe in Magic.” Sebastian, unlike the two other bands that followed, appeared, however briefly, in the Woodstock film that is being re-issued soon. Mr. Sebastian, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 with the Lovin’ Spoonful, received a sympathetic send-off by the crowd, who appreciated his valiant effort on a night when his voice was less than stellar.
Mountain, featuring original members Leslie West (guitar) and Corky Laing and Rev Jones (bass) took the stage next to an enthusiastic ovation. Mountain, a band inspired by Cream’s sound, evolved out of West’s previous band, the Vagrants. Original bassist Felix Papilardi, tragically killed by his wife in 1983, had produced three influential Cream albums, “Disraeli Gears,” “Goodbye” and “Wheels of Fire” before joining forces with West and drummer N.D. Smart.
Their fourth concert was the aforementioned Woodstock Festival in Bethel, New York on August 16, 1969. The performance, does not appear in the film or the original album, but can be listened to on Woodstock Volume 2. Laing replaced Smart soon after Woodstock and was on board for the 1970 release “Mountain Climbing.” which features their rock and roll anthem “Mississippi Queen.” Keyboardist Steve Knight was a later addition. West’s blues drenched and sludgy, yet melodic, guitar sound, Papilardi’s distinctive bass sound and Laing’s powerful dynamic drumming created a sound that influenced scores of hard rock and heavy metal bands that followed their example.
On this night, Mountain inspired the crowd with a rousing version of “Never in my Life” that featured West’s piercing solos, Rev Jones inventive bass lines and Laing’s forceful, intricate drum patterns. Laing particularly impressed the crowd with his hurricane-like drum fills and precision accompaniment.
He played like a 20 year old.
Rev Jones, a more recent addition, was visually striking as he twirled his hair around as he tapped bass lines from the “wrong” side of the fret board. The Jack Bruce penned (Cream) “Theme from an Imaginary Western”, a song about Cream’s breakup, was sung soulfully by West (Papilardi was the vocalist on the original) and his lead break took us back to 1969. West, 63, wowed the devotees present with melodic, unique solo excursions. His vocals were top notch throughout, but especially on a unique take of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” which had wonderful dynamics, as it started in a slow bluesy fashion and became a rousing hard rock psychedelic “trip.” “Nantucket Sleigh Ride,” a song about whaling, was also impressive as West injected sections of the Rolling Stone’s “Paint it Black” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” into an inventive solo.
West also endeared himself to the crowd with an old story about a relative messing up his new Bentley with a hot dog from Nathan’s and his remark “I know you from rehab” to a member of the audience. “Mississippi Queen” was competently performed, but suffered from too many effects on West’s guitar. Despite this minor shortcoming, Mountain wowed the crowd and showed why they are one of the premiere classic rock bands.
Creedence Clearwater Revisited, featuring original Creedence Clearwater Revival members Stu Cook (bass) and Doug “Cosmo” Clifford, made the Surf Avenue venue their own with an exhilarating, energetic set that did not let up. John Fogerty is not part of this unit due to dissension and years of legal wrangling and his brother Tom is deceased, but this offshoot of the late ’60’s –early ’70’s hit makers is a wonderful ensemble that is true to its roots.
Credence Clearwater Revival was a talented group whose music served as a soundtrack of the sixties with their mud-drenched Delta sound, even though they were from California. This edition, formed in 1995, is fronted by vocalist and rhythm guitarist John Tristao whose tenor voice is at times a dead-ringer for Mr. Fogerty’s. His stage presence and self-deprecating humor also won over the audience. Bay area prodigy Tal Morris reproduced Fogerty’s gritty twang and memorable solos on guitar while adding his own individual stamp to the lead breaks.
The only complaint I had with his solos is that they sometimes strayed a little too much from the original versions’, but were mostly precise. Clifford and Cook, Creedence’s original rhythm section, were solid and efficient, while Steve Gunner’s keyboard work complemented his band mates well. An emotional part of the show was founding member Clifford recalling how he and Cook met as teenagers and never gave up on their dream. The concert was a virtual greatest hits show with a “southern-fried’ version of “Born on the Bayou, “Green River,” “Commotion,” “Lodi,” “Down on the Corner, “Up Around the Bend,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Proud Mary” and their epic, “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”
All of the aforementioned were performed magnificently and energized the crowd. These classic rock masterpieces are so instantly recognizable that the throng could tell what song was being played after hearing only a few notes. After a satisfying, electrifying set, the band was called back for an encore and did not let the crowd down. They rocked the house with “Fortunate Son,” (an anti-Vietnam opus), “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” the frantic, “Travelin’ Band” and a rollicking tribute to one of their mentors, Little Richard, with “Good Golly Miss Molly.” The band put their heart and soul into the night’s performance and left the audience wanting for more, but satiated.
In light of our recent economic woes, what better way can there be than to spend an evening watching classic rock veterans giving it their all and not disappointing its fan base. Incidentally, the free admission or five dollar seating is a bargain in our time of greed and materialism. Hey, maybe the Woodstock era is not completely over after all.
It lived for a few hours last Thursday night.
More videos and pics can be viewed here.
Photo by Patrick Hickey Jr.