When a hunched over 83-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis shuffled onstage and to the piano at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Cerritos, CA, it didn’t seem as though a rollicking evening was in store. But once he hit the ivories, resplendent in a Liberace-worthy sequined jacket, all doubts disintegrated. His fingers nimble and agile, his attitude snarky and confident, he dominated the piano and the packed 1,770-seat theatre. And his voice! It’s as if all the physicality he once employed in his live shows as a younger man has been channeled into his vocals. He alternated vintage R&B tunes including “Move On Down the Line” and “See See Rider” with more subdued country ballads. Backed by longtime guitarist Kenneth Lovelace (51 years with Lewis!), drummer-to-the-stars Kenny Aronoff, and excellent bassist Ray Gann, the spare staging allowed Lewis—and his jacket—to shine.
His limited patter displayed his spitfire personality, admonishing an audience member at one point (for talking back to him), and correcting band members on occasion. But it was all with charm and a smile. The audience, mostly a staid, middle-aged crowd—not an obvious bunch for The Killer––was rapt, when not enthusiastically applauding.
After performing for nearly an hour before closing with “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Lewis got up from the piano, casually kicked over the piano bench and exited to a standing ovation. There was no encore.
Brave opening act Jacob Tolliver, who portrayed Lewis in the Las Vegas production of “Million Dollar Quartet,” provided an appropriate appetizer of early Lewis songs (and one original) backed by Lewis’ band. Despite a plastercast hobbling three fingers on his right hand, Tolliver held his own at the piano and did a fine job of invoking the more animated Lewis of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, without lapsing into caricature.
While Lewis only plays a handful of shows each year, it is clear he hasn’t lost interest in pleasing himself onstage, and his audience.