When his first British tour, and seemingly his entire career, ended in scandal and chaos over revelations about his 13- year-old bride back in 1958, few would have predicted that not only would Jerry Lee Lewis be one of the last 50s American rock n roll stars alive and still performing, but that he’d be marking his 80th birthday with a sell-out performance at the London Palladium. But, against the odds, it is Jerry Lee Lewis that can claim to be last man standing.
Following a cheesy introduction from former radio DJ, Mike Read, and a warm standing ovation from the Palladium audience, Lewis slowly makes his way to the centre-stage grand piano looking every one of his 80 years. But as soon as he starts to play that piano his fingers are as nimble and his playing as electrifying as when he made his US TV debut almost sixty years ago, a clip of which we are shown in a short film before Lewis comes on.
He’s not going to jump up and down and play the piano with his feet tonight, but he still plays as if his life depends it on it. As well as rock n rollers like Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen and, of course, Whole Lotta Skakin’ Goin’ on and Great Balls of Fire, we get some of the beautifully expressive slower numbers from his country phase, like She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye and Over the Rainbow.
One of the temptations for big name performers of advancing years is to fill the stage with so many extra musicians and backing vocalists that the stage can end up looking as crowded as the auditorium. Lewis avoids this with the same simple the lead guitar/rhythm guitar/bass/drums set-up backing him that he’s had for most of his career. And it’s testimony to his presence as a vocalist/ pianist and of the superb musicianship of his backing band that this is precisely all that’s needed.
It’s a triumph of a performance. And while it was never going to be possible to see most of his contemporaries, I can at least say I got to see Jerry Lee Lewis live in London. One of the last of the original rock’n’roll greats.
Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee
Down the Line
She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye
Before the Night Is Over
No Headstone on My Grave
See See Rider
Sweet Little Sixteen
You Win Again
Why You Been Gone So Long
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
Over the Rainbow
Great Balls of Fire