Live review: Jerry Lee Lewis at Fox Theater in Pomona

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Some things are eternal. Jerry Lee Lewis, the man, isn’t one of them -- miraculous as it may seem with the Ferriday Fireball delivering seminal rock ‘n’ roll with the power he put across Saturday night at the Fox Theater in Pomona, just four days ahead of his 75th birthday.

Looking across the beaming faces of fans in their teens, 20s and 30s as they lapped up music from a man who had two careers come and go before they were born, it was easy to envision future generations getting the same visceral thrill from this music long after Lewis himself was no longer around.

“I have my favorite bands, but this is the best show I’ve ever seen,” said 26-year-old Bill Burke, seeing the Killer for the first time with his wife, also 26 and both recently discharged from the Army following stints in the Middle East. He cited O.C. post-hardcore band Thrice at the top of his list, while Karen said she’d gotten hooked on Lewis’ music and life story after seeing an impersonator’s act in Las Vegas, which spurred her to seek out the real deal. “He’s amazing,” she said after the show.

Lewis himself seemed taken Saturday with the fervent response to “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” more than half a century after he burst onto the scene with it. Onlookers proved unable to contain themselves as he leaned back in the middle of the song and let his right hand pound the piano’s high notes. If it’s no longer with the fire of youth that once drove him, he still projects a focused intensity.


Dressed casually in a white-and-red-striped Oxford shirt, blue jeans and comfortable brown loafers, he walked on stage following sets by Reverend Horton Heat and the Head Cat looking a little unsteady. But there was nothing tentative once he positioned himself at the keyboard, the microphone stand, as always, right in front of his chest so he had to work around it as he hands coursed up and down the keys.

He kept to the basics during a set that included just one song, ‘Rockin’ My Life Away,’ from his new “Mean Old Man” collection of duets from such admiring luminaries as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Kid Rock, Slash, Merle Haggard, John Fogerty, Willie Nelson, Solomon Burke and others.

The rest of the 40-minute set ran from Hank Williams’ “You Win Again” and Stick McGhee’s “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” to “See See Rider” and one of the hits from his long run on the country charts in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye.”

The band that had now been accompanying Lewis for years — led by his cohort of several decades, fiddler-guitarist Kenny Lovelace and including guitarist Buck Hutcheson, bassist B.B. Cunningham Jr. and drummer Robert Hall — followed their leader expertly, giving him the reeling and rocking foundation he thrived on. They’ll also be with him Tuesday night when he drops into the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles for a question-answer session and brief performance on the eve of his birthday.

“Headstone,” a staple of his live shows for decades, was a textbook example of his (and the band’s) ability to turn on a dime. It started as a bluesy lament from someone looking without blinking into the face of mortality, suddenly halted and then jumped forward at double speed as a hard-driving rocker, Lewis pumping both hands over the keyboard with the abandon of a man having one final thrill ride before returning to the funereal tempo that recognized no one got out of this world alive.

When he spoke his signature closing line on the song — “I don’t want no headstone; I want a monument!” — it was with the assurance of one who is well aware that the musical monument he’s created over a lifetime is securely in place.

-- Randy Lewis

Photos, from top: Jerry Lee Lewis, guitarist Kenny Lovelace and drummer Robert Hall at Fox Theater Pomona. Members of opening act the Head Cat visit with Lewis backstage before his performance. From left, Danny B. Harvey, Lemmy Kilmister, Lewis and Slim Jim Phantom. Credit: Randy Lewis / Los Angeles Times

Jerry Lee Lewis will appear Tuesday at the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., for a Q&A and mini-concert. The Grammy Museum theater holds 200 people. Tickets for the conversation and short performance are $60 and available via Ticketmaster.