Chuck Berry

Live Goode!

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Although the booklet contains two separate and fascinating biographies of this legendary artist, neither gives any information about Live Goode! itself -- the sleeve merely states the CD was recorded live in Toronto in 1969. By this time, Chuck Berry's career had taken a definite turn for the worse, after a series of far less than stellar albums for Mercury across the mid-'60s. And although it would revive briefly under Chess' aegis in the early '70s, sloppy albums, legal problems, and ever more lackluster tours would take their toll, sullying a reputation and canon of music that deserved to be revered, not destroyed. But there's no sign of what's to come across this incendiary set, which kicks off with a red-hot "Maybellene" proudly showing off her hillbilly roots, and storms across ten more hits as well as a steaming cover of Willie Dixon's "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man." The backing bandmembers -- whoever they are -- are solid, a bit loose but never ramshackle, and although they show little flash, that just means that Berry shines all the more. The set never flags for a second, not even during the ponderous, deep blues of the extended "Wee Wee Hours," while the upbeat numbers have an aggressive edge that is a potent reminder of just how threatening rock & roll was in its early days. It was a brittleness transformed into snarling anger by the British punk bands, echoes of which can be heard on the sloughing into sloppiness of "Sweet Little Sixteen," the simple but fiery solo that opens "Carol," and the surging riff that rips through "Reelin' and Rockin'." Any Britbeat/hard rocker of the time would have hung his head in shame at the performances here, but the power of the bandmembers, their defiant lack of virtuosity, and their obvious (if heavy-thumping) love of the music is nothing to be ashamed of, as a generation a decade on and an ocean away would prove. Chuck Berry may no longer have been at his height, but he still showed himself to be a worthy contender, the father of rock & roll and the true godfather of punk, and proud of it.

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