Jerry Lee Lewis: Last Man Standing Live

Vladimir Wormwood

Pop culture is many things, but it is often flashy, fast-paced and forgetful. Last Man Standing Live takes a moment.

Jerry Lee Lewis

Airtime: 3 March 2007 (check local listings)
Cast: Jerry Lee Lewis and various artists
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Last Man Standing Live
Network: WNET New York
First date: 2007-03-07

Jerry Lee Lewis is 71-years-old. He is not, as many of my friends thought, dead. At first blush this indicates callous ignorance; youth's flagrant disregard for all things that pre-date its own discovery of popular culture. This is valid and it's also missing the point a bit. I think that setting the record straight on Jerry Lee is exactly what this special aims to do. The less that is known about Jerry, the more to learn. Frankly, flippancy may be the perfect attitude with which to appreciate this new special. Pop culture is many things, but it is often flashy, fast-paced and forgetful. Last Man Standing Live takes a moment.

The set opens, somewhat unfortunately, with "Great Balls of Fire". Naturally Jerry Lee has to play this song, and naturally it sounds somewhat less fervent almost half a century after he first pounded it out. His present rendition is apt and his voice is impressively strong, it just sounds tame. There is a brief glimpse of a highly unnecessary gig here; a large, competent band moseying through one-time rockers. Some will no doubt be turned off enough to dismiss thusly. But smile at this quaint fire, accept that growing old is hard, especially for rockers, and you will find some genuine moments here.

Jerry Lee is far more comfortable, and hence effective, in slower territory. Ballads, blues, and mid-tempo, moderate rock dominate the show with mostly excellent results. It is a cliché that the blues gets better with age but it rings true in these songs. While young Jerry Lee sounds almost whiny (by comparison) on "Crazy Arms" he now sounds worn. This edge in his older voice lends a heart-wrenching level of lament to his words. Set against the delicate sultriness of Norah Jones the Killer's first single may actually be improved.

This template works as well with Chris Isaak and Tom Jones. The maturity of Lewis' voice lends authenticity to the world weary narrative of "Green, Green Grass of Home", and his back and forth with Tom Jones is good natured and natural. Jones tempers his prodigious vocal to accompany Lewis, not take the spotlight.

Most of the duets are of this nature. Prominent figures fall in line with Jerry Lee, and it is never uncertain who's running the show. This uniform adulation mostly works as Jerry Lee has no trouble carrying the numbers. His voice has an effortless stridency and, though he is far mellower than past clips evidence, he still displays flashes of winning charisma.

The exceptions to this style have varied results. Buddy Guy's intensity on "Hadacol Boogie" enlivens the Killer and while they almost begin to strain, the passion is evident making this a true standout in an otherwise conservative concert. Ivan Neville comes close to stealing the show as he and Jerry Lee run through "What'd I Say". On the other side of the spectrum Kid Rock's grabs at attention fall awkwardly flat. He apes the antics of an erstwhile Jerry Lee with none of the talent. When he jumps on the piano you feel embarrassed for everyone involved.

All things considered this is an enjoyable concert, and not too short on excitement. The brief moments of narrated retrospective provide insight but are out of place, and hurt the feel of the program. They make it all too clear what a Jerry Lee Lewis show once was but in poorly placed bursts. Jerry Lee's own reminiscing about making his first record for Sun is far more effective. While the stage band Jerry has are excellent in filling out his sound the best performance is probably the one they don't play on. A duet with Merle Haggard, presumably recorded at home with Jerry, Merle and guitarist Nils Lofgren, steals the show. This number is the most casual and strikingly tender. It is a portrait of the aging musician with the showmanship removed. Long live Jerry Lee Lewis.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Rather than once again exploring the all-too-familiar territory of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva's debut novel contextualizes the work's origins and gets inside the mind of its creator.

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been told and retold so many times over the years that, by this point, one might be hard-pressed to find a single soul evenly glancingly familiar with western culture who isn't at least tangentially acquainted with the holiday classic. This is, of course, a bit of holiday-themed hyperbole, but the fact remains that the basic premise of A Christmas Carol has become so engrained in our culture that it would seem near impossible to imagine a time prior to its existence. It's universally-relatable themes of the power of kindness, redemption and forgiveness speaks to the heart of the Christmas season – at least as it has been presented in the 174 years since it was first published in 19 December 1843 -- just in time for Christmas.

Keep reading... Show less

Following his excellent debut record Communion, Rabit further explores the most devastating aspects of its sound in his sophomore opus Les Fleurs du Mal.

Back in 2015 Rabit was unleashing Communion in the experimental electronic scene. Combining extreme avant-garde motifs with an industrial perspective on top of the grime sharpness, Eric C. Burton released one of the most interesting records of that year. Blurring lines between genres, displaying an aptitude for taking things to the edge and the fact that Burton was not afraid to embrace the chaos of his music made Communion such an enticing listen, and in turn set Rabit to be a "not to be missed" artist.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.