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.