Friday, June 25
There is a (probably apocryphal) story about Chuck Berry at a 1980s concert that, like most things from the decade, is just crazy enough to work. The single most important progenitor of rock ‘n’ roll as we know it was backstage before a major concert, feeling surly and noncompliant to the screaming fans outside. In his hand was a sandwich; further south, on his, er, broken arrow, was the mouth of an eager young groupie.
His manager came in, looked down at the little queenie below Berry’s equator, and yelled, “Chuck, get out there! Do your show!”
Berry scowled. “Aw man. Can’t I finish my sandwich?”
And at 83, at B.B. King’s Blues Club on Friday night, Berry still brought out the ladies. Somewhere between his nostalgia-steeped stroll through his ’50s hit parade of “Carol,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” a seemingly pre-orchestrated dance party of nine teenage and middle-age lasses erupted onstage. (We could speculate, just by sneaker index alone, that they were probably tourists, but wouldn’t that seem like monkey business?)
A bit hammy, sure–did Diane Arbus ever shoot American Bandstand?–but the act was impressive in its smaller moments. Berry played mostly rhythm throughout the hour-long set, leaving solos to his pianist (you think that legendary ego would allow another guitarist onstage?). He may have forgotten a few words, judging by the three times he subbed in lines from “Roll Over Beethoven” to replace other verses but, hell, he’s forgotten more than we know. He still made coarse innuendos to the front row–“That’s called titillating,” he drawled after one impressive six-string lick. And, most importantly, he duckwalked pretty impressively across the stage, to ravenous applause, during “Memphis, Tennessee.” Onstage, in the writhing melee, Berry’s lady in red (culottes) swooned, and he smirked. At his age, he still has his priorities straight. Hail, hail.