Jerry Lee Lewis AT BB King's, Thursday, October 30th, 2014, Reviewed
Yes, James Burton was missed but yes Kenny Lovelace knows how to manage a rock band with Jerry Lee Lewis fronting, and yes, any band with the estimable Buck Hutcheson playing lead guitar is a good to great rock band by definition. So Jerry Lee Lewis had the elements in place for a first rate evening but what the 79 year old Sun Records star didn’t have was the energy any more. The 32 minute set felt like a tease, it was over before it began and all the padding in the world couldn’t change the minutes on the clock.
It also couldn’t change the sight of Jerry Lee hammering the piano with his walking stick. It also couldn’t change a man whose hands were shaking so bad he couldn’t put his ring on, still manage to hammer the piano and tinkle the piano, to ring the keys from one side to another in a powereful back and forth motion and tickle the ivory like a caress. I saw Oscar Peterson a year before he died, he’d had a stroke and was paralyzed and he couldn’t move his fingers on one hand so he swept it across the piano and Jerry Lee had the same sense of working his skills beyond his physical capabilities.
Back on the road for his 80 th birthday with his back to Sun studio new album Rock And Roll Time and an autobiography, written by Ricky Bragg, Jerry Lee has put back on his rock and roll hat after decades of performing mostly country and every song in the set was fine with me. From “Little Queenie” and “CC Rider” to “Great Balls Of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On”, the Killer was ageless, putting the lie to the vision of him gray, hunchbacked, and ignoring his voice which was woefully out of tune on some on the newer songs.
The evening began with an excellent collection of rock and roll tracks by the New York Blues Hall of Famer Jon Paris, and half way through “Cmon Everybody” people wanted to know who the cat is. By the time he had nailed “You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover” so did I. A “Mystery Train” with Paris blowing his harp like the hoots from a steam engine train brought the house down.
The back up band played for ten minutes, a short film of JLL life was shown and we were trying to get through the half hour in one piece. A poorly sang “Keep Me In Mind” off the new one paled in comparison to a rollicking “Roll Over Beethoven” and Jerry Lee couldn’t begin to sing “Before The Night Is Over” but the piano solo was the best music of the night.
With the piano, it is like a muscle, it works by reflex, and the same was true of Jerry Lee’s singing of rock and roll standards, but the moment he went out of his comfort zone, you plain wish he hadn’t.
So, a short set, tight, capable, the singing was not very good, the piano playing was fine, the Memphis mafia backing band excellent and the vision of Jerry Lee banging his walking stick on the keys was worth the hefty $125 price of admission. We won’t see his likes again