REVIEW: Chuck Berry

JAZZ CAFE, 20/11/08

THERE will come a time when the line is crossed.

Where people are no longer there for the music and instead come to Chuck Berry’s gigs just to take mobile phone videos and quick souvenir pictures of him performing, grabbing a tell-your-friends snapshot of a legend still at work at 82.

At the Jazz Cafe last night (Monday), every other person in the crowd had their arms raised with an illuminated screen tracking his red sequined shirt as he slipped onto stage. In fact, more were snapping, than dancing.

Once upon a time, Chuck, one of the most influential musicians of the last century, would have threatened to walk off stage if he felt a no-photos rule was being breached – but the days of temper tantrums seemed to have past as he stared down the waves of tiny cameras.

There is a bittersweet sense that lingers around these veteran shows, a feeling that if you don’t see him now, you might never will – it explains the shuttering cameras.

But then I was thinking the same thing when I first saw him live fourteen years ago and he still continues to press on.

At the Jazz Cafe last night (Monday), he wobbled occasionally, forgetting a verse or two and the rings around his eyes have grown deeper and darker.

Sometimes he just paws at his guitar and lets the rest of the band, including his son Charles Junior, do the work. He’s earned the right to only do an hour, a quick hour during which he flicks from Chicago blues to the rock n roll which made him famous. The 200 hundred plus song back catalogue can’t be squeezed into 60 minutes.

There was no Brown Eyed Handsome Man, no You Never Can Tell, no Nadine – but for every missing song, there was a hit in its place. The smokey Let It Rock was delivered with improbably gusto, as was Around And Around, one of the tunes the Rolling Stones pilfered from Chuck.

A blast of Maybellene recalled Berry’s first hit record, more than 50 years old now. Some songs he jacked in after the first chorus but Johnny B. Goode could not be curtailed, the mock ‘aw shucks’ surprise on Berry’s face when ‘Go Go Go’ was chanted back to his face has been part of the act for decades.

As has the trick of getting five or six girls to dance on stage to provide cover for him to sneak away.

They clapped and cheered for an encore – but anybody who knows anything about Chuck know he doesn’t come back to the stage once he’s left. He certainly wasn’t going to tackle the stairs onto the stage again.

It didn’t matter. When the deadened batteries on those mobile phones are recharged, the memory cards will show a true legend passed this way.

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