Warner Vision/Warner Vision .
R4 . COLOR . 60 mins .
E . PAL
Ian Dury once sang about Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll and he could well have been singing about Jerry Lee Lewis, the one man who personifies rock 'n' roll. Bursting out of nowhere in 1957 from Sam Phillip’s stable of artists at Sun Records, Lewis promptly racked up four consecutive number one hits and went from strength to strength. He was the first artist to have the same number one record on the Pop, Country and Western and R&B charts with Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On. This feat was also achieved by Elvis and Carl Perkins, but neither of them followed it up with another as Lewis did with Great Balls of Fire. This had never been accomplished before, or since, and probably never will. Lewis was soon selling albums by the truckload and filling large concert venues with his ability to whip the crowd into a frenzy with his manic performance and unpredictability. Then, just as quickly, it all came crashing down.
Yes, they were dancing in the street.
Arriving in London in 1958, the local press (much like the Fleet Street reporters of today) learned that Lewis’s new bride was only 13 years old – and his cousin (actually she was his second cousin – twice removed, but why report all the facts when grubby sensationalism is more profitable)! Needless to say, the media and the public’s love affair with Jerry Lee Lewis was over, in an instant.
He returned home to the States to find his music blacklisted just about everywhere, but not even that could knock the wind from his sails, and Lewis continued to play to enthusiastic crowds but in much smaller venues.
A mini-comeback in the ’60s proved his saving grace (that and an unshakable faith in God), but by now Lewis had swapped his rock 'n' roll hat for a Stetson, enjoying success as a country artist.
Time has a way of healing, and ensuring the general public largely forget what it was that once raised their ire, and Jerry Lee Lewis was essentially forgiven and largely forgotten. He still toured regularly through the ‘80s and ‘90s (as evidenced by this 1989 Hammersmith Odeon performance), but little has been heard in the last few years from a man now approaching 70. No doubt he is still rock and rolling away at his ranch in Mississippi. With numerous failed marriages, the death of two sons, addictions to drugs and drink, IRS problems and a lifetime of hard-living under his belt, chances are he’ll be around for a little longer yet.
Some critics accused him of playing out of his arse.
This 60-minute performance is a showcase of the man’s talent as a performer, and first and foremost as a pianist. It takes a few songs for him to warm to the show, and it’s probably the arrival of Van Morrison and then Brian May to the stage that really fires Lewis into action. Other guests include the late Stuart Adamson (Big Country), Dave Davies (The Kinks), John Lodge (The Moody Blues) and Dave Edmunds and, by the show’s end, Lewis is not only rocking his heart out, but positively ripping the keys to shreds.
If you’ve ever wanted to see Jerry Lee in action, then this DVD is certainly the place to start. Great songs, notable guests and a passion to play all come together for a night enjoyed by all, ironically in the city that was responsible for his career stalling some 30 years earlier.
I Am What I Am I Don't Want to Be Lonely Tonight You Win Again I Got a Woman Goodnight Irene What I'd Say High School Confidential Rockin' My Life Away Johnny B. Goode Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On Great Balls of Fire Good Golly Miss Molly/Tutti Frutti Mexicali Rose Wild One
So know you’re probably thinking, “OK, pretty good show, but what does it look and sound like?”. The good news is that there is really only good news. Visually, this looks very good and far exceeds expectations. The full frame image is mostly quite sharp and clear, looking only a little shaky when the camera pans around too quickly. Being a live show, stage lighting plays havoc with colours that are generally solid with minimal interference. Being recorded on quality video tape has certainly helped retain clarity.
There are a few problem areas such as long shots when the vision is a little fuzzy, black levels are more green than black, and there are some minor microphony bands, but as these long shots are few and far between, they are not worrying.
Other than that, there is a very minor tape glitch or two, some flares and after images when cameras catch a stage light and then pan, but this too is not overly troubling. Considering how some of these ‘80s shows transfer to DVD, all up, this is a welcome surprise.
The Linear PCM 48/16 track won’t win any awards anytime soon, but overall it sounds pretty good with a surprisingly decent fidelity. Bass guitars and the like rumble along nicely, Lewis’ piano is sharp an clear, vocals are clear and bright. Guitar solos and between song banter (limited as it is) is are adequate, but don’t seem to shine as much as the rest of the audio. There are no problems with hiss, clicks, pops or dropouts, synchronisation is great, and the quality of the music is essentially matched by the quality of the audio.
The extra features are scant, amounting to a half a dozen text-only biographies for the main guests and a slightly more detailed one for Lewis himself. Chances are fans will learn precious little they didn’t already know.
Rockers come, and rockers certainly go – some of them way too soon. Jerry Lee Lewis is nothing if not a survivor. With the likes of Elvis, Carl Perkins and Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis defined the path of rock 'n' roll, but unlike most of them (for varying reasons), Lewis is still able to attract, and work, an audience.