Stub Heaven: The Review And The Stub To Prove It: Jerry Lee Lewis In 1997
This is not the greatest Jerry Lee show I saw, the greatest was June 14th, 1996, but this was the second greatest I ever saw, 16 months later. And while that sounds like a simple truth, maybe it isn’t. Because I bought boots from both shows just today off Wolfgang’s Vault, and to these ears, the October show 1997 might have a slight edge. Either way, they were both 20 years ago and the difference between Jerry Lee at 62 and Jerry Lee the last time I saw him, in 2014 back when he was 79 (here), should be startling enough for anybody who thinks the 60s are old… you ain’t seen nothing yet, brother.
The June concert featured Elvis Presley’s band James Burton leading Jerry Lee’s hard rocking good ole boys as Jerry, getting on stage and performing a 45 minute show, the band solos were crisper, Burton killed on “Lucille”. October 17th, 1997, twenty years after Burton first performed with John Denver, Burton was at Denver’s funeral in Aurora, California, and the band weren’t as good but they were still plenty good, also we got the full hour long set. So six of one, half dozen of the other, but I’d give the edge to June where Jerry Lee played his piano like he was the top F1 driver behind the wheels of the sleekest racing car in the world, asking for and responding to requests with a cool pleasure.
Once up on stage, Jerry Lee doesn’t fuck around and in June the audience were nothing if not rowdy, screaming requests, starting “Killer” chants, and responding as he calls for a coke, or a bottle of whisky, with hoots of delight. The only two people who should ever be allowed to refer to themselves in the third person, are Elizabeth II and the Killer, that’s all, and the Killer did it a lot. Both shows have no real arc to them, well, wait,”High School Confidential,” “Great Balls Of Fire,” “Whole Lotta Shakin Going On,” were taken round the mid-way point both nights. One complaint, I’d have loved to hear “Personality”.
Oddly, I went to the early show in October while Ben Ratcliff went to the 1am gig and wrote this in the New York Times: “He opened with ”Roll Over, Beethoven,” and quit in the middle. ”Trouble in Mind” was next, and after the refrain he started to improvise a verse — something about ”thank God for the breath I’m breathing” — then snapped it off. ”Enough of that,” he proclaimed. And so on. Most songs were abandoned after two choruses and a piano solo, left there like half-eaten sandwiches. This wasn’t some kind of medley. This was about building up a little steam, arriving at the turnaround, and then denying the audience a resolution.” Ben thought he was bored but I don’t think that’s true, I think Jerry Lee was tired. “We’re gonna try to make you feel good, make you feel bad, just feel,” Jerry Lee proclaimed during the first set, a far cry from “‘ don’t want to bore you so maybe I should say God bless you and thank you very much,” the way he ended the evening hours later.
The first time I saw Jerry Lee was on English TV where he stomped all over the piano and changed my life, the last time I saw Jerry Lee he took his walking stick and banged his piano with it, October 1997 he did neither, yet he had the control and ease of a complete master. Rockabilly, rock and roll, and country, were all given lively presentation. “You Win Again” had a morbid sensibility and chugged like a steam engine, “Big Legged Woman” he forgot the first and the second verse, “Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” was all rhythm and hard hitting boogie. “Blue Suede Shoes” was the best band performance of the evening as he namechecked Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. “Over The Rainbow” was a country song, the purest country song of the evening. It felt as though Jerry Lee could have performed anything for “the land Jimmy Swaggart sang of”.
June 1996- A
October 1997 – A