August 20, 2003
Chastain Park Amphitheatre - Atlanta


Little Richard:

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Opening the show tonight was Georgia native Little Richard. Richard took the stage in a suit so sparkly that it looked like all of the fallen stars from the recent meteor showers landed on him. The first thing he did was climb on top of his piano to survey the scene. His band was incredible and as he leaned hard into “Good Golly Miss Molly,” you just knew you were seeing something special. Before the second song a gentleman in his late 50s or so shocked Richard by handing him a rose and requesting a kiss. Perhaps for the first time ever, Little Richard was speechless. He accepted the rose and then answered the request by saying, “I love you, too, but you’re too old for me!” Richard is 70 this year. The rest of the show was all energy. “Bony Maroni” led to “Lucille” and there was no stopping all night. He did slow down to acknowledge the mayor of Macon and lots of family members that came out to the show, but it was always just an instant before he was back pounding out another classic. I could’ve done without his versions of “Old Time Rock And Roll” and “It’s Only Rock And Roll,” but his Mick Jagger imitation was worth seeing. During “Keep A-Knockin’, a male dancer (who I feel safe to say will never be married) danced around in leather pants emblazoned with an American flag. It was pretty distracting and ridiculous, but the music thankfully stayed the focus. After reclaiming his “woooo!” during a cover of The Beatles “I Saw Her Standing There,” Little Richard ended with a super fast take of “Long Tall Sally” that made my head spin. Before the song even ended, he had left the stage.

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Chuck Berry:

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The next bit may be the hardest thing I've ever had to write. As much as it pains me to say it, Chuck Berry – the man who made guitar synonymous with rock and roll – needs to quit, go home and retire. I’ve always admired Berry and never had the chance to see him so I was excited for this show. You’d think that an opening triple shot of “Roll Over Beethoven,” “School Days,” and “Sweet Little 16” would be enough to make my night, but “Beethoven” was so sloppy that it had to actually be restarted after a few measures.

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On top of this, the pick-up band that was chosen to work with him was not good. With the exception of a superb pianist, the rhythm section was never better than mediocre. This can’t happen in “rhythm & blues.” Or maybe it can, but I will say that if you take the rhythm out of it, all you’re left with is the blues. Trust me. Chuck’s guitar tone was perfect, but it was never close to in tune. He ambled across the stage, forgot lyrics and ended songs right in the middle of them.

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At one point, he ditched trying to rock and pulled out a blues chestnut called “It Hurts Me Too.” During this, it felt like everything might come together after all, but the problems re-emerged during an abbreviated (re: fallen apart) version of “Nadine.” Soon after, he pulled out “My Ding A Ling” but that was another incomplete pass so he decided to just take requests from there on in. The first request was “Rock And Roll Music.” This is where a few sparks started flying as he began ad-libbing entirely new verses. John Lennon once called Berry “the poet laureate of rock and roll.” It was clear why as Chuck tossed out once hilarious line after the other…each custom made for Chastain Park in Atlanta.

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“Johnny B. Goode” was next and it was clear that the band knew this one. Thank God. For a few moments, I got a glimpse of the Chuck Berry. The strangest thing was that during the solo and duck walk, a huge green Luna moth flew dramatically into the stage area and seemed to be dog fighting the musicians and speakers. It was very odd. For “C’est La Vie,” the moth perched on the best seat in the house (Chuck’s monitor) before taking wing back over the crowd. Berry closed out the night with “Reelin’ & Rockin’.” For this one, he invited dozens of audience members up on the stage. It felt like a party. It felt like rock and roll. After the rest of the show, it felt bittersweet.

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The chance to see these two truly seminal artists on the same night was a treat even with the specter of limited time in the air. Little Richard still looks and acts the same. He seems fit and ready to go. He could be 30 years younger than he is and yet says he’s retiring from performing at the end of ’03. Chuck Berry is history and at this point, it’s probably best he stay there. I still love all of his music and the pleasure it has brought me, but there comes a time when even the best things should end. Richard seems to know that. The record is definitely fading out, but at least the song is still sweet.

Chris McKay /