Country Joe Has Crowd Cheering

By GREG HAYMES, Staff writer

First published: Sunday, August 29, 2004

Times Union, Albany, NY

ALBANY -- "Gimme an F," shouted Country Joe McDonald as he strode up to the microphone at the State Museum on Saturday night. -"F," the audience shouted back. "Thanks, I needed that," McDonald shot back. No, he wasn't about to deliver his band's most famous (or infamous) hit at the start of the show, but thankfully he came armed with plenty of old nuggets and new gems, and he had no trouble keeping the audience entertained for two hour-long sets.In fact, he cranked open the show with "Entertainment Is My Business," as the crowd clapped and shouted along.

The band was basically the classic 1960s lineup of Country Joe and the Fish -- minus guitarist-vocalist Barry Melton. McDonald was surrounded by bassist Bruce Barthol, guitarist-keyboardist David Cohen and drummer Chicken Hirsh.

Not surprisingly, the reunited combo -- now dubbed the Country Joe Band -- spent much of its time dredging up psychedelic golden oldies. Back then, the band was equal parts jug band and blues rockers, and they pretty much maintained that balance on Saturday, although they played at only about one-eighth of their old volume level.

The music was there, even if the volume wasn't. The trippy, multimovement instrumental "Section 43," the plaintive off-kilter circus waltz "Janis," the strutting "Sweet Lorraine" and the existential quest of "Who Am I" were just a few of the trips into the Way-Back Machine. "Death Sound Blues" was the most powerful blast from the past, as Cohen provided his most muscular solo of the night.

It was the last of the six concerts in conjunction with the exhibit of Elliott Landry's photographs from the '69 Woodstock fest, and McDonald and crew made the most pointed political comments of the series with the new "Cakewalk to Baghdad," the animal rights anthem "Save the Whales" and the jaunty anti-war ditty "I Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag."

They even dished up "Superbird," an old protest song against Lyndon Johnson, which was updated with some new lyrics in the hopes of removing another Texan from the White House.

And, yes, they finally did "The Fish Cheer," too. And better yet, McDonald told a wild and woolly tale about the history of the cheer and how it resulted in him being put on trial for obscenity in nearby Worcester, Mass. And, let me tell you, that story alone was worth the price of admission.



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