Rock / Rocking away the years

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The Independent Culture
BORN TO rock'n'roll! Little Richard! Chuck Berry! Fats Domino! All three on stage together for the first time! Except for one of them! The Pavarotti of rock's Three Tenors played on the first night of the tour, in Sheffield, but was not well enough to continue. Ain't that a shame? Yes, but the crowd at Wembley on Thursday got their money's worth anyway.

Little Richard opened the show in the way that dynamite opens a safe. Okay, so he had to be given a hand when he climbed atop his piano, the mane of hair is certainly not his (it may even be alive), and his voice is a touch gruffer and rougher. All the same, at 62 he remains an extraordinary showman. "Little" does not refer to his ego.

He incinerated "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally" with a ferocity which would leave gangsta rappers trembling. His pink jacket darkened with sweat. In between times he minced up and down the stage squealing: "Did you like it?" We did.

Chuck Berry has been reviewed here recently, but it bears repeating that his performance is one of life's great joys. He didn't attempt to compete with Little Richard's extroversion (though he did his duck-walk - and his snake-wriggle and his panther-prowl). Instead, he relied on the subtlety and charm of his lonely, twanging blues, motoring boogies and innuendo-packed comedy yarns. He even recited poetry. As a narrative lyricist, there is simply no one better, and his warmth and professionalism made the younger generation of rockers - the fiftysomethings for instance - look very, very poor.

That's another thing about Berry and Richard: they admit their age. Berry whooped, "If you love it, you're never too old" in "Rock'n'Roll Music".Richard reminded us: "This is once in a lifetime. We're gettin' old. Some of you are, too." It's a good point. There will not be many more opportunities to hear these seminal songs played by the men who made them famous, so take any chance you can. They're by no means over the blueberry hill.

Dave Stewart's show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire on Monday was U2's Petshop TV, stadium rock without a stadium. In Svengali suit and shades, Stewart seemed to have brought his chord changes, female backing singers and sometimes dazzling guitar solos from Pink Floyd.

Eight screens flashed up stuttering, flickering images, which you can reproduce in the comfort of your own home by waggling your television aerial. Stewart was a video pioneer in the Eighties. He still is a video pioneer in the Eighties.

His boardroom rock was forced and lacking charisma, and the guitar, sax, and vocal cadenzas on the Stock-Aitken-and-Waterman funkers lasted too long. It's ungrateful to say so, considering that he put so much into the show - "Sweet Dreams" on a toy acoustic guitar, throwing trumpets into the audience - but I found myself spending the last few songs trying to decide if the man I'd spotted in the circle was Mick Jagger. On the bright side, he was.

By the time that Supergrass played the Hammersmith Palais on Wednesday, their debut album, I Should Coco (Parlophone), had been out for all of three days, so everyone knew the words. Supergrass exist in a different time frame from the rest of us. The three-piece have hurtled from nowhere (that is, Oxford) to the Albert Hall with Ride, to the Alexandra Palace with Blur, to, by the time you read this, the Top Three of the album chart. Coco bursts with scruff'n'tumble, head-over-heels energy, winking wit and cracking tunes. The band owe a fair amount to Keith Moon's drum-rolls, the Buzzcocks' velocity and Madness's, well, madness, but they manage to bury their influences under their own blustering enthusiasm.

Live, they are still hampered by self-conscious amateurism, and stand looking intently at their instruments. But it was the sweatiest concert of the year and it was only fitting that it was over in 40 minutes.