Chuck Berry, Shooting With Annie | 10.16.2010

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And at that moment it hit me: the torch has been passed. Bum notes and ill-tuned guitars don’t matter. Chuck never gave a shit about that in the first place.

 
 
 
 
Photos: Corey Woodruff
 
The Pageant, St. Louis
 
St. Louis’ greatest concert venue is now ten years old, and who better to headline the anniversary show than the city’s own Chuck Berry? After all, he was the first act to play Joe Edwards’ revamped theater when it opened and he practically invented rock-n-roll. But watching the surprisingly spry octogenarian ramble through his hits was a bittersweet experience.
 
His guitar was out of tune, he played out of time and his voice was faltering. He even botched the words to some of his songs. In fact, his band sounded best when Chuck stepped out of the spotlight to allow his son (and grandson!) to shine during a guitar solo. With Chuck at the mic, the band simmered at a slow boil as he opened his set with “Roll Over Beethoven,” “No Particular Place to Go,” and “Memphis, Tennessee.” But as soon as he handed the reins to his band, they kicked the volume up a notch and locked into a deep groove before settling back down for the next verse.
 
Hence, my reaction. I’m a student of rock-n-roll. I’ve played his songs hundreds of times onstage myself—millions of people have. “Johnny B. Goode” has to be one of the most requested songs at jam sessions worldwide. The guy is an icon, period. So to see him stumble and clang his way through the classics tore me up a little. Sure, he’s over eighty years old but there’s a lot to be said for walking away when you’re winning. This is not the Chuck Berry show I want to remember.
 
That said, Chuck was also handicapped by the fact that he had to follow one hell of a set from local upstarts Shooting With Annie. They may have walked on stage to literally zero applause, but they departed to a roaring ovation as drummer Joe Meyer shouted “Happy Birthday Pageant!” into the mic.
 
Shooting With Annie clearly had lots of respect for Chuck, but they took hold of an unenthused crowd and made them take notice with a terrific set of blues- and country-tinged rock. They concluded with an epic “November” that built from a twangy ballad to a rollicking party, thanks to an appearance by The Funky Butt Brass Band. As what seemed to be the last chords of the song rang out in the darkened Pageant, a chorus of horns and drums was heard in the venue’s entryway as the surprise guests second-lined their way to the stage. The lights kicked back in, and so did Shooting With Annie. The entire stage erupted in sound and the audience had no choice but to go completely bananas.
 
Backstage, Shooting With Annie was in high spirits after their set, especially when they posed for photos with Chuck Berry. And at that moment it hit me: the torch has been passed. Bum notes and ill-tuned guitars don’t matter. Chuck never gave a shit about that in the first place. The man knows what his legacy is, and he’s perfectly comfortable with it. Chuck may be in his twilight years, but his music will continue to influence generations of bands, including the one he shared the stage with that night. | Corey Woodruff
 
 
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