Live Review: Jerry Lee Lewis in Niagara

JANE STEVENSON - Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:15 AM ET

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. -- Time has slowed down Jerry Lee Lewis -- a.k.a. The Killer -- but, thankfully, it hasn't tamed him.

Early on during his show Thursday night at Niagara Fallsview Casino's Avalon Ballroom, it looked like there might be more filler than Killer.

The 70-year-old singer-pianist only walked out on stage after his crack four-piece band had already played the first four songs of the concert without him.

And even then, Jerry Lee -- frail in body, rough in voice but still an impressive piano thumper with a feisty spirit -- played for only 45 minutes and didn't return for an encore.

It was the first of two sold-out shows for rock 'n' roll's original wildman, making a rare Toronto-area visit. In his '50s heyday, Lewis was famous for knocking over his stool, putting his feet up on the keys, and trashing his piano -- even once setting fire to it.

"I've gotten a little bit older since the last time I was here, but I'm still trying to hang in!" he told the crowd.

Lewis was decked out in a black and red bowling shirt, black pants, black cowboy boots and his dyed-red hair slicked back. Fittingly, he slowly sauntered on stage after his band performed Hey Big Boss Man.

His first song was Roll Over Beethoven, which saw him sit down on his piano stool with his back perfectly straight, while his hands moved quickly over the keys like it was second nature.

All I could think was that it must be hard being a performer whose performing reputation was built so much on raging, hard-edged physicality -- and now have to sit so still.

It made me wish I'd seen him 50 years ago as he performed his big hits Great Balls Of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, which still motivated more than a few young things in the audience Thursday to get up and dance.

"You're still sexy, Jerry Lee!" one female fan screamed out from the crowd of 1,500.

His second song was a genuine surprise, Over The Rainbow, but that slow standard was followed by another early R&B song, Drinkin' Wine Spo Dee Odee.

The Louisiana-born Lewis, whose ego once equalled his voracious appetites for women, drink and booze, even gave himself a hard time for his performance of Odee.

"I might have played that last one a little too fast!" he said. "Whoo!"

And is it just me or is there something slightly creepy about Jerry Lee singing Sweet Little Sixteen, when he was a man who married his 13-year-old second cousin Myra in 1958 -- a scandal that derailed his career for nearly a decade ?

It also seemed that for every rocker he delivered, there was an accompanying standard such as You Belong To Me or a country tune like Hank Williams' You Win Again -- a testament to his eclectic taste in music.

Still, Jerry Lee refused to stick to the script as he broke into Chantilly Lace, announcing to his bandmates: "I'm going to do what I want to do!"

He even ad-libbed some of the spoken-word parts of the song, saying, "Will I what? My track record speaks for itself!" The song's ending even provoked him to shut his piano keys cover abruptly, which was about as close as we got to witnessing Killer's old stage moves.

Still, it was nice to see him happily shuffle off the stage by the end, with a little spring in his step. Jerry Lee plays his second sold-out show at the same venue tonight.


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