Unlike some artists, George Thorogood isn’t trying to re-write the big book of rock ‘n roll, or even ripping a page from the tome.
The singer/guitarist brought his gutteral growl and chunky Gibson guitar riffs to Bluestem Center for the Arts in Moorhead for a show that seems likely to draw noise complaints from the neighbors.
I was surprised that the road veteran of 30-plus years had as much hardware as if he were playing the Fargodome. I didn’t see the stack of speakers on ground to the side of the stage for Alice Cooper earlier this month, though in fairness that was a pretty full crowd in the bowl.
I sat with my cousin Dan in the reserved bowl seats, centerstage, and before the end of the second song, Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?,” Dan wanted to move because it was too loud for him. The volume didn’t seem to bother the rest of the crowd, most of which stood and danced for the duration of the 90-minute show.
Finding a new spot wasn’t a problem as the show drew about 1,150, less than half the venue’s capacity. And it doesn’t necessarily impact appreciation of the show as there isn’t a bad seat or spot for sound in the house.
But back to the music. Thorogood tells you straight up what to expect in the title of the first song, “Rock Party.” And he doesn’t disappoint. There are no ballads, no acoustic numbers, just gritty, bluesy, pounding rock.
The slowest tempo was probably on his hit “I Drink Alone,” followed nicely with a shout-out to tip the bartenders, who appeared to be having their busiest show of the summer. He also requested everyone find a sober ride home.
He’s more effective as a rock star than as a M.A.D.D. spokesman. At 61, Thorogood still has as much kick in his step as snarl in his voice. He scooted from each side of the stage, making faces at the crowd and posing, even pulling off the guitar-crobatics of playing behind his head on only the second song, “Who Do You Love?”
I was surprised how front-loaded his hits were in the set with “I Drink Alone” and his take on John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer” were only a handful of songs in. He did play “Hi-Heel Sneakers” and “Seventh Son” from his new tribute to Chess Records, “2120 South Michigan Ave.,” but didn’t play his lesser hits, “Haircut,” “Willie and the Hand Jive,” or “Long Gone.”
He did save Hank Williams’ “Move it on Over” and his signature “Bad to the Bone” for the end of the set. During the latter, LED light screens behind the band played the video for the 1982 hit. I forgot Bo Diddley’s role in the video, a nice nod to a major influence on Thorogood’s style.
A more surprising influence was shown when Thorogood came back for the first encore, “Tail Dragger.” Without a guitar, but wearing a porkpie hat and carrying a microphone, he minced, pranced, danced and strutted across the stage like a Mick Jagger impersonator.
Fans saw a more familiar side for the closer when he brought out opener, 74-year-old sax man Eddie Shaw, a former Muddy waters and Howlin’ Wolf sideman, for Elmore James’ “Madison Blues.”
Thorogood may not be hip, but he knows and honors his musical history.
As Jagger summed it up, “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, but I Like it.”