Reviews 2008

Telegraph / March 25, 2008:

Chuck Berry: turning up the heat

Chuck Berry - Nine Below Zero

100 Club / London / England

March 23 / 2008

By Andrew Perry

In a world where erstwhile stadium-fillers such as Led Zeppelin reunite for one night only, the concept of a "hot ticket" has gone into strange new territory. But this one was bona fide. Original first-generation rock-and-rollers are in increasingly short supply, and it is almost impossible to see one of them where they're meant to be seen - in a sweaty club.

Chuck Berry was the man who wrote the script for rock and roll. Just as Elvis Presley was scoring his first hits for Sun Records, Berry became one of the few black artists to appeal to the new white audience, with a fresh twist on the wild, liberated sound of rhythm and blues.

Unlike Presley, he was the author of his own material, creating a songbook through the mid-1950s that originated rock's staple themes of cars, girls and good times, and in the process captured the buoyant mood of post-war America.

He is also, for all his melodic and lyrical genius, a notoriously tricky character. He has often demanded huge bonuses just minutes before walking on stage. Given the unusual nature of this concert, where tickets were sold to a partisan audience online at £140 a pop, one wondered whether Berry, now 81, might be cooking up one last folly for London.

As it happened, he hit the stage bang on time, sporting a glittery marine-blue shirt and white captain's cap, with a band including his son, Charles, on guitar.

He led off with a version of Roll Over Beethoven, which was almost avant-garde in its re-arrangement. After a couple more dicey numbers, he reeled out further classics - Around and Around, Nadine, Rock'n'Roll Music and a fabulous You Never Can Tell.

Listening to him sing those familiar songs, you almost felt like a child listening to their grandfather tell stories around the fireside - until he struck up My Ding-a-Ling, his infantile No 1 hit. He then played Carol, and, more through absent-mindedness than spontaneity, switched to Little Queenie midway through.

However, Berry plainly still had his chops. When someone requested Reelin' and Rockin', he declared that he would do it, as long as three women joined him on either side on stage. The stage filled. He quickly worked his way across to the two most glamorous and delivered some of the hottest guitar riffing you'll ever hear.

Suddenly, he was among the crowd, still blasting out chords. He entered the dressing room, came out again, traversed the entire venue and left by the back staircase. In those exhilarating moments, 140 quid felt like a bargain.

Guardian / March 25, 2008:

Chuck Berry remains a compelling, bona fide, rock'n'roll original

Chuck Berry - Nine Below Zero

100 Club / London / England

March 23 / 2008

By Ian Gittins

Having formed in the postpunk years, Nine Below Zero have spent three decades playing a sturdy, robust, very British strain of blues from an era when R&B meant Alexis Korner and Dr Feelgood rather than Beyoncé or Rihanna. They are also highly unlikely ever to have existed without the pioneering musical efforts of tonight's legendarily idiosyncratic headliner.

Chuck Berry's influence on rock'n'roll has been acknowledged by everybody from Keith Richards and John Lennon to Brian Wilson, but tonight, the 81-year-old icon has more basic matters on his mind. "It's gonna get warm in here tonight," he cautions, surveying the compact 100 Club's low ceiling and packed clientele. "But let me tell you, I'm gonna rock you!"

Berry was once notorious for playing take-the-money-and-run live shows with hapless local bands he would hire on the day, but thankfully he has mended his ways. Leading a slick group of bluesmen including his son, Chuck Berry Jr, on second guitar, the smirking figure in a US Navy cap and sequinned turquoise blouse gives what amounts to a one-hour crash course in rock'n'roll history.

He is, understandably, a largely static performer nowadays, but Berry remains spectacularly dextrous, firing out the serrated Roll Over Beethoven and 1955 debut single Maybelline as if he wrote them yesterday. The nimble, shifting blues rhythms of You Never Can Tell collapse into themselves, but Berry has his defence prepared: "Look, I'm 81 years old, and you can't top that!"

Responding to audience entreaties, he even revisits his lewd nursery rhyme 1972 No 1 My Ding-a-Ling, punctuating its Carry On-style innuendo with lascivious, throaty chuckles. His days of doing the Duckwalk may be well behind him, but Chuck Berry remains a compelling, bona fide, rock'n'roll original.