Jerry Lee Lewis' 40 minute set unites generations

Wed Sep 29, 2010 8:43pm EDT
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By Erik Pedersen

POMONA, California (Hollywood Reporter) - You might not find a concert crowd with a wider age span than the one that turned out for Jerry Lee Lewis at the Fox Theater on Saturday.

It ranged from silver-haired veterans who used to put a penny on their turntable needle to keep it from skipping to pre-K tykes who simply enjoy skipping. But they and everyone in between were there for the same reasons: A love of good ol' rock 'n' roll and the chance to experience one of its true legends.

There were classic '50s cars parked out front of the Fox Theater in Pomona -- and, somewhat covertly, a paramedics truck stationed just around the corner -- as fans filed in for a show celebrating the Killer's 75th birthday this week. Expectations of his legendary wildman antics were low, but the opportunity to hear that singular voice lay out those iconic songs drew a solid crowd. And few likely went home disappointed.

After a fiery opening set by psychobilly stalwart the Reverend Horton Heat, during which Heat called the headliner his biggest influence, Lewis and band cranked the meter on the wayback machine. In true old-showbiz fashion, the four-piece backing band played an intro set while the star waited backstage. The four-song, 15-minute preamble included Little Richard's 1956 nugget "Slippin' and Slidin' " and wrapped, appropriately, with Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man."

Then said boss took the stage -- with a decidedly unrushed mosey. Lewis sat down at the piano and dug in. Throughout the set, his arms and hands were in constant motion, fingers pounding away, but his head and body remained almost eerily still. His voice didn't wail, but that Killer distinction remains.

The show was a mix of early rock and country blues, the latter often molasses-slow and lyrically far from sweet. "You Win Again," the Hank Williams classic that was a the B-side of "Great Balls of Fire," fed into Stick McGhee's proto-rock staple "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-o-Dee," Lewis' last visit to the national charts in 1973.

Lewis is on the road supporting his enjoyable new album, "Mean Old Man," a set of duets with some of rock and country's biggest names. The only song he played from it was "Rockin' My Life Away," but neither the track's collaborators, Slash and Kid Rock, nor anyone else turned up Saturday to share the stage with the charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"Let's go way back," the Killer said before launching into the 1957 megaclassic "Great Balls of Fire." It was too much to expect the ruckus of the 45, but it got the place jumpin' and drew a standing ovation. Set closer "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" turned into an extended jam during which Lewis stood up for the first time and made his signature kick of the piano stool. No matter that it only launched a foot or so, none whatsoever. He finished a furious solo, casually turned and slowly sauntered offstage, stopping at the wings for a final wave as the band played on.

There was no "Breathless" or "High School Confidential," and Lewis was only onstage for 40 minutes, but his show was a reminder about this too-often-overlooked rock 'n' roll icon. There's no question about his place in rock's pantheon, but one question did pop up when the house lights came on: What was with the "It's a Small World" exit music?

<p>Singer Jerry Lee Lewis performs during his appearance at "An Evening with Jerry Lee Lewis" at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles September 28, 2010. Lewis celebrates his 75th birthday on Wednesday and he just released a new album "Mean Old Man". But a Q&amp;A session with the rock 'n' roll legend at the Grammy Museum on Tuesday was an uncomfortable experience as a blank-faced Lewis sat at a piano and mumbled brief answers to a moderator's questions that he had heard a million times before. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>