Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Some thoughts on Chuck Berry's performance at the Congress Theater

Posted by Andrew

Photo: Elaine Mellencamp
By now we’ve all heard about the collapse of Chuck Berry at the Congress Theater on the first day of this year. As an attendant of the show who was planning on writing a review, I feel I must refrain from adding the kind of subjective critique of the withering rock star that I had originally intended. Rather, I would like to address a few questions and perhaps raise some more regarding the surreal experience.

First off, I mean absolutely no disrespect to Chuck Berry. And I am in no way unappreciative for the opportunity the Congress Theater gave in hosting the legend. I, like most people I told when I was going, assumed that he was dead. But the 84-year-old still regularly performs at his bar in hometown St. Louis. I should be so lucky to make it to 84 and still have the coherency to do something that I love. But at that age, you also have to recognize the inherent limitations of the human body. To play a double show one evening, travel and play again the next isn’t something I think most 20-nothings would find particularly pleasurable. Considering the look of loss on Berry throughout most of the performance (extended guitar tunings, song stoppings, missed cues), it seems certain that this was not entirely his idea. Whoever is in charge of booking these shows doesn’t seem to really care about the well-being of the performer.

True, Berry does seem to love to perform. After his collapse at the piano and being led offstage, he tried his damndest to play again and again. He is cognizant enough of the fact that he is a performer and wants to entertain his audience to the fullest extent that he can. But there comes a time when an artist has to accept that he has to give it up. Some burn out and some fade away. Watching the wax roll down the bright candle of Chuck Berry’s life does not make for a fulfilling performance. I would rather know that he lives out his final years in peace and not at the whim of concert bookers and promoters. Had I never had the opportunity to see him live, so be it. Since he happened to be in my city, I decided it was something I couldn’t possibly miss. And the booking agents knew that.

Of course, this is all speculation. Again, it is obvious Berry loves entertain his fans. It probably gives him great joy to pass on his legacy to younger generations. The crowd at the Congress was certainly the most diverse that I have seen at a show, well, probably ever. The man defies generations and all rock stereotypes. I know I would have regretted not going to the concert. But I hope to never see him live again if it means seeing him in that state.



  1. Really wish I was there. It doesn't get more original than Chuck Berry.

  2. Only Chuck can decide whether Chuck should still perform. :)

  3. Well, I agree with Andrew. It was certainly a sad sight to see, and there must be a time when a performer should call it quits. Just as Andrew said, I don't want to see him again in that state either.