He moves like a heavily medicated Mick Jagger with a bad back and arthritis from the waist down….so basically…. Yeah. George Thorogood is rock’s blues bastard child. I wasn’t expecting much at the beginning of the event but at one point it occurred to me: this was good and, what’s more, Thorogood is really playing the blues. Don’t get me wrong, he’s the whitest bluesman second to David Wilcox and he hits every cliché left of the key – but there is an authenticity to it I had not anticipated.
George Thorogood is a ham, no doubt about it. He poses for greater applause than his guitar second gets, doubtlessly more technically talented than the eponymous front man. He struts, he shakes (as much as his hips allow, he humps), he does a shot to our honour, he whips away two pairs of sunglasses in order to play serious guitar now. After the show he comes out to take a bow to the climax of the national anthem. But this, after all, is show business and as the bandleader of The Destroyers he has certain expectations to live up to.
I don’t know how much trouble George is up to nowadays but the attitude of the blues is all there on stage. If he can’t do it in real life he wishes he could and the stage give him to the power to be that man, even if only in stage context. He means it and if it is an alter-ego or shadow of his past, it is another side of a split psyche. A George Thorogood And The Destroyers show is more than a couple cheap compositions lit up in fog before a motley beer soaked congregation. I see the ethos of a subculture. He may be old-guard but age and expectations are themes of which he is self-aware in his stage show.
In gist: By golly tonight it’s good to be alive / I am what I am and I’m having a good time! He’s old, he can hardly move but so far as sticking to his guns is concerned, I give him all credit due. He’s paid them on the road for years, never having a thoroughly successful recording career, minus a couple admitted hits. Thorogood himself admits they were proud to fly wild and dangerously under the radar until the nineties.
The guitar playing is crude; he plays with pure muscle. Lacking variety and invention, things get primal. I think the only idea of dynamic control George has thorough command of is palm muting to play quieter and hitting harder to, well, sound harder! He never thought of his volume knob. If George Thorogood intends his guitar to seem louder, it is. If he wants to break it down low, he stops playing. If you want more from him, he give you more by playing the same licks – but by playing more of them, more out of them. Not playing harder lines but hitting the lines harder.
For those of us of the video game generation, he’s discovered all the cheapest juggling combos, crafting rhythmic katas he can play over and over the entire song, so long as he feels like it, synchronized perfectly. Stress and release slopped over the edge of the bar line, ad infinitum, in a froth of distortion, volume, octaves, and open strings. His technique is a cultivation of sonic attitude: could play all his licks with the middle-finger.
That is the essence of his inconceivable authenticity. He doesn’t even have to be good to be good. He just means it as he says it, politically correct or not. And that goes for musical terms as well as social. The blues form is his forum to lecture to a riot in his image (You should have seen the power-mullet and mustached goatee middle-ager who chatted me up at the urinal). The lesson is: Fuck your rules and your values and your girlfriends. Here is a community, perhaps transient and minimally committed to the mores, but nonetheless, “I promise I’m going to do everything in my power to get arrested tonight!” sounds like a trustworthy battle-cry for the disenfranchised believers within those walls – for a least the moment being. Like I said, he could very well say that and then go right to sleep in his trailer after the show. I’d wager that on-stage, though, he intends to do just that tonight, for old times’ sake, for rock and roll, for the honour of every black beat bluesman of the South – at least until the show’s endorphin rush wears down like the cartilage in his pelvic joints. Or maybe I’ll picture that he’s in jail right now. After a repeat performance of his Magnum Opus, One Bourbon, One Scotch, And One Beer, and a mad turnpike split for freedom and chicks, driving over too many lines to be ignored.
The bristling of counterculture’s disembodied ethos through a body of pure muscle. I am not speaking of any subculture in specific, nor am I too picky about the schemata governing Destroyer blues. Fuck it [polite sociability] because it deserves to be fucked and we deserve to get a little action! What I glimpsed in the wail and pulse was more than the sum of its parts, which was itself nothing spectacular. I smelt the familiar charred smell peculiar to the gestalt of dissidence – perhaps waning, perhaps waiting – even if carefully masked behind an un-serious bit of routine. And that is always worth seeing.
A public service announcement from the Destroyers: “Don’t drink and drive….whatever you do, man, don’t drink and drive….Get your buddy to drive you home….get your buddy’s girlfriend to drive you home….But whatever you do, don’t drink and drive….man….I’m so full of shit, sometimes I don’t even believe it!”