Jerry Lee Lewis at the Congress Theater | Live review + photo gallery
It's a tribute to the genius of Jerry Lee that he could overcome an out-of-tune piano, at least one offkey vocal (which he blamed on a bad monitor, during "You Win Again"), and a few sluggish song tempos, yet STILL come off like a champ. This is Jerry Lee Muthahumpin' Lewis—should we expect any different? Lately, they've been calling him the Last Man Standing for a reason. And not just because Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash beat him to the boneyard either.
If you recall, Lewis was supposed to play at the Congress on July 9, cancelled reportedly due to illness. This was the make-up date. Although Linda Gail Lewis (Jerry's sister) was advertised, she did not appear. After a couple of songs by the backup band (featuring JLL's longtime guitarist Kenny Lovelace), including a laid-back, almost country-rockish version of Little Richard's "Slippin' & Slidin'," the Killer himself bounded on stage to tumultuous applause. During his first number, "Down The Line," it became evident how much his voice had coarsened and deepened. But it hadn't weakened; even in the lobby, his voice resonated. While occasionally he would lag behind the beat, he still managed to catch up in time. His set was unusually heavy on cover versions of standards like "Trouble In Mind" and "C.C. Rider," several of which he'd actually recorded at some point in his career. While he did throw in his own songs (including his 1969 country weeper "She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye"), he only did two instantly-recognizable Lewis standards: "Great Balls Of Fire" followed by the set closer, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," both of which caused a dancing outbreak towards the back of the hall. The front of the stage was dominated by seats, strangely enough. Although Lewis has never been known as a straight sit-down act (even while he himself is seated at a piano bench), the Congress Theater likely installed chairs in deference to his older fans, who dominated the seating area.
The opening set was handled by Joel Paterson's Modern Sounds, whose take on small-combo 1950s rhythm & blues can usually be heard in smaller, more intimate venues like the Green Mill. In a bigger showcase like the echoey, 4000-capacity Congress, the nuances of their sound occasionally got lost. But even in a relatively large former movie theater, it was still obvious that this was a fine band to be reckoned with.