October 31, 2008

Jerry Lee Lewis at the Forum, NW5

John Clarke

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Itís 50 years since Jerry Lee Lewis first came to Britain, although that tour was a short-lived one as he was forced to depart swiftly once it was discovered that his blushing new bride was only 13 years old. This time, as Lewis walked on stage in an immaculate grey three-piece suit, white shirt and spotted tie, he looked like a veteran American senator about to declare that the South was gonna rise again.
He sat down at the grand piano, right leg turned slightly to one side and with the mike stand in the centre of the keyboard. With a face as impassive as one carved into Mount Rushmore, he launched into Roll Over Beethoven. The piano playing was strong and rolling, the voice as potent as Southern Comfort. The Killer was back in town.
The face remained stony, especially when the drummer failed to meet his exacting standards ó ďThatís what I have to put up with, a drummer three beats behind the barĒ ó but lit up when the audience, warmed up by a set by the rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson, roared their approval.
From then on it was a parade of Lewis doing what he does best ó Sweet Little 16, Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee, You Win Again and a majestic version of his first record, Crazy Arms. It may not have been the piano-pumping Lewis you can see on YouTube, but it was a more stately version of it and once the right hand started to pound down on the treble keys, the audience erupted.
It was a short set, but you canít expect a marathon from a 73-year-old. He ended with Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakiní Going On. The crowning glory of rockíníroll in seven wonderful minutes. Towards the end of Shakiní, he stood up, tall and slightly stooping, and pushed away the piano stool. With one final keyboard flourish, he left the crowd baying for more, a Killer retaining his deadly touch.