Chuck Berry, 100 Club, London
Wednesday 26 March 2008
Chuck Berry doesn't need a dressing room. He jumps out of his car at the back of the 100 Club and runs straight on to the stage, and he disappears in a similar fashion, whisked off into the night while the audience is still applauding and expecting that he might return for a parting shot of "Johnny B Goode". As usual, Chuck does things his own way. There was some surprise, earlier, that he even appeared for the sound check, although he spent most of that in a chair, just watching the band – which includes his son, Chuck Berry Jr, on second guitar.
It has to be said that on any given weekend, you could probably find a hundred pub bands turning out more proficient and dynamic covers of "You Never Can Tell" and "Rock & Roll Music" than Berry manages tonight. And it's disappointing that Berry, a living legend with an unrivalled repertoire of solid-gold rock'n'roll classics, should squander precious minutes on that smutty old novelty hit "My Ding-A-Ling".
But normal judgement has to be suspended. This is all about the event, and it doesn't get much bigger, better or more thrilling than the moment Berry strides on stage, lifts his Gibson and kicks into "Roll Over Beethoven". Berry, at 81, is one of a literally dying breed; he is the originator of many of rock's most fundamental and appropriated riffs and licks, and he is walking – although no longer duck-walking – among us in a tiny venue soaked in beer, sweat and history. You can touch him. (Some of us do.)
Adding to the sense of occasion is that this is something of an exclusive affair. According to Berry, it's a "private, invitation-only" gig, although tickets were made available, expensively, in certain circles. Nine Below Zero, hand-picked to warm up the crowd, give a friendly blues performance that includes some memorable solos from guitarist Dennis Greaves and harmonica supremo Mark Feltham.
Famously cantankerous, Berry is in a good mood this evening, smiling benevolently as he unleashes a choppy "Maybelline", the song that started his career, carries off a sensational swerve from "Carol" into "Little Queenie", and invites members of the audience to come up and dance beside him. But he's not about to do us any special favours: by the time his car is revving up, ready to take him away, Berry has been playing for little more than an hour.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Emma Watson on Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak: 'Even worse than seeing women's privacy violated is reading the comments'
- 2 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Cee Lo Green: It is only rape if the victim is conscious
- 5 Nigerian witch-finder Helen Ukpabio threatens legal action against human rights organisations
Scottish independence referendum: Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Frightened Rabbit to play in support of Yes campaign
Jessica Chastain demands Scarlett Johansson-fronted Marvel superhero movie
Downton Abbey series 5 start date revealed: ITV drama to return in late September
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Olivia Colman and Mary Berry top Radio Times' female power list
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain