Sometimes we can all benefit from getting back to the essentials, cutting away the superfluous. By Saturday night, the Minnesota State Fair’s Grandstand lineup felt like it needed some of that. Riding to the rescue was George Thorogood and the Destroyers.
Throughout his almost 50-year career, Thorogood has always been an unapologetic rock-and-roll revivalist, his heroes such pioneers as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. The growling guitar slinger likes his rock with roots clearly exposed, his riffs almost invariably of 1950s vintage.
After several evenings when the Fairgrounds was permeated with sounds several generations removed from these primordial jams, Thorogood and band proved a breath of fresh boogie. Sure, at age 72, he’s not the wild man he once was, but he promised the crowd of 4,587 a “Rock Party” on the opening song, and he delivered a raucous, blues-based 75-minute set at its best when Thorogood and saxophonist Buddy Leach were cutting loose with solos that distilled the spirit of rock-and-roll.
I recall feeling a similar sense of back-to-basics satisfaction two years ago when ZZ Top graced the Grandstand with what turned out to be its final Twin Cities show, seeing as bassist Dusty Hill has gone on to that great juke joint in the sky. So the current champions of uninterrupted longevity among guitar-bass-drum combos might be Thorogood, bassist Billy Blough and drummer Jeff Simon, a threesome that’s been together since 1976.
And they seemed to still be having a great deal of fun as they rollicked through a set that had a lot of drinking songs on tap: “I Drink Alone,” “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” even the Champs’ almost-instrumental, “Tequila.” Yet the high points came when Thorogood and band rumbled through more sinister fare like “Who Do You Love?” and “Bad to the Bone.” And the leader showed off his fingerpicking prowess on an extended show-stopping solo sans band midway through “Gear Jammer.”
Granted, Thorogood was never a particularly strong singer, and some songs were more shouted than sung. But the performance had a becoming celebratory feel for the final Saturday of the Fair.
Batting leadoff was Night Ranger, which has little in common with Thorogood save being played frequently on “classic rock” stations in the 1980s. Night Ranger is pure pop metal, and its Saturday set was full of hard-rock histrionics, squealing guitars, thundering drums, plumes of steam and howling vocals, from the opening “(You Can Still) Rock in America” to the quintessential power ballad “Sister Christian,” for which drummer/lead vocalist Kelly Keagy turned most vocal duties over to the crowd.
Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities freelance music writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.