Monday, February 19, 2007


I've regretted going to my share of concerts over the years, and sometimes not even because they're bad. There's a Tortoise show that stands out as something that would be a truly memorable experience if the band was playing in your living room as you drifted off to enjoy a nice nap. But I've never once regretted turning out for one of the old guys. One of my favorite concert memories ever is seeing Johnny Cash at the Glastonbury Festival in 1994. This was around the same time the first American Recordings album came out. He was that year's token old-timer and I don't think he expected the reception he got. It's not like he ever stopped touring, but I don't think he'd ever played to a sea of black-clad, pierced English youth who could sing along to every song. And I mean every song. Not just "Ring Of Fire" but "Ghost Riders In The Sky," too.

On Saturday night Stevie and I saw Jerry Lee Lewis, like Cash another member of the Million Dollar Quartet. The last one, actually. He even named his last album Last Man Standing and put a picture of himself with Cash, Elvis, and Carl Perkins inside. I've been on a big Jerry Lee kick ever since writing the (apparently still in the editing process) article on Memphis music movies and picking up the aforementioned Last Man Standing. (A side note: It's actually quite good, unlike most of the oldsters-duet-with-younger-stars albums. Of particular note: A duet with Keith Richards called "That Kind Of Fool" on which they lament they were never the kind of fools who could just have one drink and go home to their wives.)

I'll spare you the harrowing ordeal of getting there via Google Maps directions that took us through the back roads of a national forest where no house is apparently complete unless there's half an automobile or a broken stove on the lawn and mention only in passing that southern Indiana is (otherwise) really pretty to get to the show. Once again: No regrets. Lewis' long-serving band warmed up the show with a handful of oldies which the drunken louts behind us dimissed is "bullshit" that quickly got downgraded to "third rate bullshit." It wasn't, but it wasn't star time either. That came when Lewis ambled out, explained that his plane had been rerouted and that he hadn't had time to change then launched into "Roll Over Beethoven." His voice was problematic on some songs, in fine form on others but the playng remained, as always, an inimitable force of nature. And, despite the environment--which offered excellent acoustics but little else in the way of atmosphere--it felt like a Jerry Lee Lewis show. The drunken louts wandered up to the front of the stage to do some dancing, prompting security to escort them to one side, but not before one of them engaged in some spirited finger-pointing in Lewis' direction and Lewis returned the favor. Later Lewis complained about how it wasn't a rock and roll show if people could tell you how to dance and when to dance. This was shortly before a fight broke out (also involving one of the louts.) For a good 90 seconds or so it was more Memphis roadhouse than sterile casino.

One particular highlight was Charlie Rich's "Don't Put No Headstone On My Grave," which Lewis played as a country lament that turned into rockabilly then back again. These are the official words:
"Don't put no headstone on my grave,
All my life I've been a slave,
Want the whole wide world to know,
That I'm the man that loved you so"
For some reason I heard "loved you so" as "loved his soul." I could be wrong. But I do know he finished the song by slamming the cover of the piano keys against the piano and then looking out at the audience in defiance of something. It might have been death or maybe just the woman he took to task for putting her fingers in her ears with the words, "And people say I'm crazy."

As I was hoping, he also did his rendition of "Over The Rainbow," which just kills me. And he closed, of course, "With Great Balls Of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shaking Going On." For the final passages of "Shaking" he rose, kicked over the piano bench, and played standing up. There was great effort involved in every part of that action and to close the show he simply wandered off and let the band play the final notes. But the spirit behind the gesture was unmistakable. One more rock and roll show down and The Killer was off to join the night, even if now it was at a slower pace.

Below's the setlist. Both it and the photo above come via the thorough European fansite The Jerry Lee Lewis Start Page.

1) Roll Over Beethoven
2) Over The Rainbow
3) Sweet Little Sixteen
4) Memphis, Tennessee
5) Before The Night Is Over
6) She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye
7) Why You Been Gone So Long
8) Don't Put No Headstone On My Grave
9) I Dont Want To Be Lonely Tonight
10) You Win Again
11) Hadacol Boogie
12) Great Balls Of Fire
13) Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On


Stephanie said...

By attending that Tortoise show, we helped several poor women get free pap smears. Don't forget that!

I also want to note that the fight ended when someone struck another attendee in the head with a beer bottle and we saw the latter hauled out on a stretcher as we left. That *never* happens when we go to see Josh Rouse.

Catherine said...

I highly recommend seeing all the elders that still exist... I count myself lucky to have seen James Brown and kick myself for not seeing Sinatra when I had the chance.