Live at the Star Club, Hamburg [Bear Family]

Not Rated

Live At The Star Club, Hamburg is not an album, it's a crime scene: Jerry Lee Lewis slaughters his rivals in a thirteen-song set that feels like one long convulsion. Recorded April 5th, 1964, this is the earliest and most feral of Lewis' concert releases from his wilderness years, after he was banished from the radio and after he had left Sun Records for Mercury, but before he humbled himself and switched to country. Live at the Star Club is not country, boogie, bop or blues but showdown rock & roll, with no survivors but the Killer.

Not that the rockabillies and piano pounders whose tunes he devours — Ray Charles ("What'd I Say"), Carl Perkins ("Matchbox"), Little Richard ("Good Golly, Miss Molly") and Elvis Presley ("Hound Dog") — thought of Lewis as their chief competition. But he did. The world at large seemed out to get him, and that was no position for the hardest-working ego in show business. Lewis was not going to just slide through his career doldrums. He wanted to show 'em all — those prigs who looked down their blue noses at his marriage to thirteen-year-old Myra Gayle Brown, those fools who thought Elvis was the King, those damned Brit invaders, even the angry God of his angrier fathers. No enemy could touch him onstage. Once Lewis launches into "Mean Woman Blues," the audience and his backing band, a vastly overmatched British group called the Nashville Teens, simply toast in the afterburners.

Lewis combines his frightening precision with piano stomps and rolls, and nonstop sneers and boasts (his self-references would not be matched until the rap years). He devours the songs with his sweet-hellfire vocals, spattering everyone with Jerry Lee-sanctified lewdness. He makes the manic pace his everyday beat — "Your Cheatin' Heart" is the only respite — and the fact that he's functionally a one-man show doesn't matter. Throughout, Lewis calls for the guitarist to add some excitement in the middle of the storm, but at that point even a tuba would sound crazed.

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