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An evening with Sideshow Bob: Counting Crows and Goo Goo Dolls put on quite a show at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Monday night. Counting Crows did a folkie, acoustic take on their more popular songs after the Dolls rocked the house in their opening set.

Joe Putrock

Good Old Boys

By Bill Ketzer

Willie Nelson, John Fogerty

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 6

What a treat to see Willie Nelson after all this time. My wife devoured The Tao of Willie in one sitting the day before our SPAC attack, so from the moment the legend and his extended family took the stage with “Whiskey River,” my ear was filled with factoids and anecdotes from the life of the country legend. “That’s his best friend Paul on drums!” she cried. “Willie named his daughter after him.” This continued during the chugging “Me and Paul,” and from there sister Bobbie just kept them on their toes with piano intros as Willie manhandled his smashed-up old acoustic (“That’s Trigger!” Heather yelled), playing it coarse, loud and stinky, coaxing melody from its insides like a light beam from cheap plastic. He smiled into the amphitheater with a warmth and sincerity that made me want to cry. There’s just something about being in the direct presence of someone who has lived his entire life in the service of music that gets me right under the ribcage. Like Sinatra, he does it his way. Like Lemmy, he lives to win. His Cherokee profile (“He’s also Irish,” my wife reminded)—braided, coarse and impervious—adds a stoicism to such timeless, creaky serenades as “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain” that I want to start a campaign to see him on the next American nickel. Apparently we got a pretty standard set, what with “On the Road Again,” “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” and “Red-Headed Stranger,” but this was fine with me.

John Fogerty was in tremendous form, exploding into the spotlight with a smoking “Travelin’ Band,” and Willie joined the band for a rousing “Jambalaya” soon after as a sweet sundown breeze swept away the August steam, setting the mood for the rest of the evening. Smiling like a mofo, Fogerty bounced around in his long-sleeve flannel like it was made from John Kay’s magic carpet, clearly glad to be back in action. If the not-so-fortunate son remains at all bitter following his notorious decades-old struggle to win back the right to play his own songs, you’d never know it. In fact, dusty gems like “Lodi,” “Born on the Bayou” and “Bad Moon Rising” got a new spit-shine courtesy his ageless holler and support from exemplary hired guns. The icing on the angel food was the drumming of the indefatigable Kenny Arnoff (a very pleasant surprise), who threw his snare shots all the way from the small of his back, and people pointed at Fogerty all night as if to say, “Look! He’s no longer the old man down the road! Why, he’s lookin’ out his back door, he’s going down on the corner, he’s going up around the bend. . . . Why, he’s rocking all over the world!” Or some such thing.

I left the park, navigating its ridiculous wash of police barricades and switchbacks, with two issues. The first was the lackluster “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” because after all these years it still reeks of insincerity, pales in comparison to the Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight versions, and the endless meandering lead guitar just guts me. The other was the woman in section four, row L, seat 8, who stood up directly in my line of sight and went into this routine that fell somewhere between a critically injured Axl Rose to-and-fro and Chumley the Walrus accidentally caught in a deep-sea gill net. No one within 50 feet of her was standing. She sported orange denim mom-pants and matching flowered shirt. “Basically Garanimals for consenting adults,” said Heather, shaking her head. Is this libel? Defamation of character? God, I hope so. I’ll do anything to get some public discourse on this.

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