Jerry Lee Lewis review – a rare, authentic rock'n'roll jamboree

Palladium, London
The Killer celebrates his 80th birthday with a jitterbugging throwback to his riot-inducing heyday

As Iggy and Mick are now learning, making your name as an onstage dervish becomes an albatross in your creakier years. Pianos no longer quake at the arrival of Jerry Lee Lewis, one of the last touring rock’n’roll originators and the one-time Steinway-abusing punk prototype. He hasn’t been walking on any keyboards or torching baby grands on this 80th birthday farewell tour – London’s last great rock’n’roll show, compere Mike Read reminds us. The most dangerous antic he attempts tonight is downing a cola during a guitar solo.

Yet, arriving to a short film tribute and standing ovation, The Killer still attacks his instrument with the ferocious dynamism that today’s young creatives reserve for Call of Duty. Across an hour of boogie, blues and country covers, from Roy Orbison’s Down the Line to his famed take on Big Maybelle’s Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, he hammers away with a spirit of dextrous abandon little dimmed since his riot-inducing heyday. It may rankle, in the current climate, for a man whose career was destroyed by the scandal of marrying his 13-year-old cousin in 1957 to be performing Chuck Berry’s lascivious Sweet Little Sixteen, and his age-muffled vocal chords aren’t up to his later country laments nor his 1980 cover of Over the Rainbow these days, but this is a rare rock’n’roll jamboree that bristles with golden-era authenticity.

Like JK Simmons’ drum tutor in Whiplash, Lewis spins from charmer to perfectionist tyrant on a dime, one minute closing No Headstone on My Grave by joking that he’d prefer “a golden monument”, the next stopping Hank Williams’ You Win Again to berate his guitarist over a fluffed chord. So when, after a storming Great Balls of Fire that has them jitterbugging in the aisles, Mike Read halts the show a song early to introduce Robert Plant and Ringo Starr wheeling on a sparkler-festooned birthday cake, Lewis is overwhelmed. But Read’s ass, you suspect, is toast.


Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Jerry Lee Lewis, Manchester Apollo

Manchester Apollo

Dave Simpson

03, Mar, 2004 @2:45 AM

Article image
CD: Jerry Lee Lewis, Last Man Standing


Alexis Petridis

01, Dec, 2006 @11:50 PM

Article image
Million Dollar Quartet – review

Jerry Lee Lewis is the standout in this musical celebration of a great day for rock'n'roll back in 1956, writes Michael Billington

Michael Billington

28, Feb, 2011 @10:15 PM

Jerry Lee Lewis, Last Man Standing

Legend remakes rock standards - with a little help from his friends.

Caspar Llewellyn Smith

12, Nov, 2006 @2:08 AM

Article image
Keaton Henson review – songwriter's self-torture yields pain and pleasure
Trembling with emotion, at times sitting with his back to the audience, the musician holds his chronic anxiety at bay long enough to deliver an impassioned and mesmerising performance

Betty Clarke

20, Nov, 2016 @11:42 AM

Article image
Rock’n’roll America review – the gospel truth about a music revolution
It wasn’t that long ago that Elvis Presley was denounced as the devil’s disciple. The way the first rockers tell it, though, it was more about impressing girls…

Lucy Mangan

11, Jul, 2015 @6:00 AM

Article image
Jerry Lee Lewis to work with the Stones again. Probably

The 73-year-old rock'n'roller is planning to collaborate with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on a new blues album in 2009

Sean Michaels

27, Oct, 2008 @9:56 AM

Article image
Jerry Lee Lewis: ‘Without Great Balls of Fire, rock’n’roll would be boring’
Jerry Lee Lewis on how John Lennon embarrassed him by kissing his feet, how a handgun habit felt normal, and flipping his Rolls Royce

Paul Lester

09, Jul, 2015 @1:23 PM

Article image
The 100 greatest UK No 1s: No 15, Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire
The 1957 rock’n’roll hit is still one of the most lascivious songs ever recorded

Michael Hann

18, May, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
Jerry Lee Lewis: ‘I worry about whether I'm going to heaven or hell’
At nearly 80, Jerry Lee Lewis has outlived his rivals and is preparing for his final tour. He talks to Simon Hattenstone about why his seventh wife is the love of his life, how he became known as ‘the Killer’, and why Elvis was just a hillbilly

Simon Hattenstone

08, Aug, 2015 @9:30 AM