Chuck Berry's concert Saturday night at the Warner Theatre was everything one could hope for from a 62-year-old legend well past his prime. Inspired by the success of his movie and autobiography last year, he played with a sense of enthusiasm and ambition that had been missing from his live shows for many years. Instead of pandering to nostalgia by rushing through his hits, he played many lesser known songs and blues guitar solos. Best of all, he didn't play "My Ding-a-Ling."
The evening's biggest treats were the slow blues tunes like "Everyday I Have the Blues." Berry's expressive, extended guitar solos were full of surprising diminished jazz chords. He segued from a calypso number, "Jamaica Town," to a swinging country-western version of "Ramblin' Rose." He completely rearranged "Nadine," giving it a Cuban beat. On hits such as "Memphis, Tennessee" and "School Days," his vocals were relaxed and bluesy as he slyly slipped in just enough humor without lapsing into camp.
The evening's cause was greatly helped by Potomac pianist Darryl Davis, who has toured Europe with Berry and who intuitively understands pianist Johnny Johnson's role in Berry's classic hits. Playing rolling arpeggios and staccato triplets, Davis provided crucial balance to Berry's guitar, and the two even switched instruments at the end of the night. Then, 66 minutes after it started, the show was over and the promoter could only tell the standing, chanting crowd that "Chuck has left the building."
The Choir Boys, a local guitar-and-harmonica quartet, opened the show with a likable set of roots rock without ever establishing much of an identity.