May 6, 2016
Early into his set with the Destroyers last night at Massey Hall, George Thorogood threatened that he was going to rock so hard he was going to end up in jail.
It was a fundamentally unlikely statement coming from a 66-year-old playing a historic soft seat theatre, but these days keeping the spirit alive is almost as important as actually ending up in the slammer.
See, now that it’s obvious we’re in the middle of the First Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Extinction Event™ (R.I.P. Bowie, Prince, Lemmy), it’s even more important that those can still rock, do, and that the rest of us dutifully salute them.
If not outright crime-inducing danger, there’s still a sly cheekiness to Thorogood’s performances — the cheap pops for Ontario, Canada and “T.O.”, the threats to steal your girlfriend, and the declarations that he’s “full of shit” after conducting an anti-drunk driving psa — that rock ‘n’ roll’s current generation don’t have. The Black Keys ooze too much hipster smarm, Jack White’s too self-important, the Foo Fighters are too pop punk and Gary Clark Jr.’s too busy pursuing his Hendrix muse. If any of these people did a half-dozen Chuck Berry duck walks across Massey’s stage in an evening it’d run the risk of mean-spirited irony. For Thorogood, though, that duck walk’s absolutely real.
Where that places Thorogood is firmly in the role of lineal descendant and keeper of the flame. When Thorogood grinds out his take on Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” it’s a history lesson in the blues. When he smashes through a particularly righteous version of The Strangeloves’ “Night Time” it feels like it’s 1965 all over again.
Then there’s the drinkin’ songs.
The one-two of “I Drink Alone” and Thorogood’s celebratory version of John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon One Scotch One Beer” has made him the patron saint for unredeemable alcoholics for more than 30 years. And if the response from the Massey audience — a healthy mix of suburban dad bods, road-trippin’ smalltown bros and Duck Dynasty extras — was any indication, there still might be some menace left in rock ‘n’ roll’s old bones.
By the time Thorogood got to signature song “Bad To The Bone” it was abundantly clear he was not in fact going to be arrested this night for rocking too hard. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that intent to commit was still there. Which still means something when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll these days.