It was a fun night. Sometimes it was so much fun Chuck seemed to think we were laughing at him. "I hear you talking and laughing. But no man is perfect!"
But never, Mr. Berry. Everybody loved every moment.
It began, as ever, with "Roll Over Beethoven," followed by a long, beautiful version of "Wee Wee Hours" and a short half version of "Maybellene." Then a long rock and roll instrumental in G, where Chuck and his band hit the St. Louis groove that I became more familiar with on this trip. "That was pretty good!" he said, with considerable understatement.
Someone yelled "We love you, Chuck!"
"Thank you girls," he said. "I know a girl when I hear one!"
There was a moment in the set where Chuck Berry tried to show us all his hearing aid. "This one's gone," he said, pointing to his right ear. "If you spend 52 years in front of a drummer you pay a penalty!"
"I didn't say 'a penny,'" he added. "I've paid this one plenty!"
But that hearing aid obviously helps. There were some flubbed notes, but on "Wee Wee Hours" and a couple of the instrumentals, Chuck was killing it. So was the band.
He did "School Days (Ring Ring Goes the Bell)," but forgot to let us sing "Hail! Hail!"
He launched into a short one about no poem as lovely as a tree and admitted "We've never played this one before." The band members agreed.
When he asked what Chuck Berry songs we wanted to hear I used my position in the front row to lobby for one I've never heard him play. "No Money Down!" I yelled. I hold a perfect record on that one. I still haven't heard Chuck play it-- he stood there listening while Ingrid and the band did a great job on the song. That made me feel a little bad, but I was consoled by a high five from the rhythm guitarist. Anyway, it was a great Chuck Berry song that ought to be played more!
To get himself back on track Chuck launched into another rocker instrumental, and once again, they killed it. Then he asked Bob Lohr what to play. "How about Johnny B. Goode?" And they rocked that one, too, with some lyrics I've never heard but that I liked: "a little boy who looked a lot like me!"
Ingrid did a slow blues next. "You know what I'm talking about ladies, don't you. I work hard every day taking care of castle keep."
And then a wonderful version of "Reelin' and Rockin'," with the vocal highlight coming from bass player Jimmy Marsala. At a quarter to 12 Chuck began singing "I didn't know if I was...". And when he paused for just a breath Jimmy filled the void with "going to Hell!" Charles was laughing so hard he was unable to play guitar for at least four bars.
A band called Palace opened. We heard their soundcheck and knew they were good, but during the first few numbers the sound equipment faltered badly and they had to stop mid-song two or three times. One of their singers-- a very pretty young woman-- told stories and jokes and answered silly questions from the audience while BBH's sound man figured out the problem, and then they went back to work with a shortened by triumphant set of rhythmic pop that mixed bits of Brian Wilson, Queen and The Beatles. The crowd loved them, so did I, and so did Charles Berry, Jr., who applauded their professionalism afterwards.
All in all, a wonderful night. We topped it off by staying up way past our bedtimes to see a bit of Roland Johnson's set downtown at The Beale. I guess I'll pay tomorrow. Tonight, I'm just pleased we came back to St. Louis one more time.
(Unbelievable! Just lost all the pictures I was trying to show you. It was taking forever, so I'll do a selection!)