Sunday, June 11, 2006

Little Richard still rips it up

As unhip as they may be, your mom and grandmother know who Little Richard is. Since the title of "king" is already taken, he's acknowledged as the "architect" of rock and roll, now 73 years old and like many performers of his generation, he makes his money from constant touring instead of album sales- it's not just a matter of putting out (or not putting out) new product as it's also that royalties that come from his original hits from the 50's aren't exactly structured in his favor.

Even if he can't prance around as he once could, he's still the outrageous character that we know from the songs and from his proclamations, as he proved at the Apollo Theatre last weekend. Backed by two sets of drummers, guitars and bassists (including one of his sons) plus a four piece horn section, he sounded nothing like a sad oldies act but like a mischievous boy-at-heart entertainer. "In the old days, you had to dress up to perform," he told the crowd. "You had to show them something that they couldn't see anywhere else." Interesting sentiment and one that didn't (and doesn't) usually hold water nowadays (better to ID with the crowd and be one of the people I guess).

As for his stage banter, it's priceless. "I'm not conceited, I'm convinced!" "Prince is a flip-flopper!" (he meant it religiously and teasingly he says...). Every time he let out a howler, his immediate response was always the same- "Shut up" (not mean spirited but more like "aw, you shut up, child!"). Every 5-10 minutes, he wanted to know if we were having a good time (we were) like the good entertainer that he is. Strangely enough, when someone called out for a song, he threw out his song list and immediately compiled, even if it meant playing a tune again briefly to prove that he did it. Like I said, the man wants to please.

So we were treated to "Tutti Frutti," "Lucille," "Rip It Up," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (not his tune but he made it sound like it), "Ready Teddy," "Keep A Knockin'" (a personal fave and not just 'cause Led Zep borrowed the intro), "Slippin' and Slidin'," and "Long Tall Sally." Also, "Old Time Rock and Roll" (which he should know) and oddly "It's Only Rock 'N Roll (But I Like It)." Not surprisingly, he didn't do the line about "suicide on the stage" but he does obviously get a kick out of the title.

How many times you need to experience this? Well, definitely at least once, especially if you care anything about rock. And as he's welcome to remind you, if you also care about Elvis, the Beatles, Prince, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix (who worked with him), Billy Preston (ditto and who died a few days after the show) and the list goes on. And so does Mr. Penniman.


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