Little Richard, Gruene Hall, May 6

Live Shots

Little Richard

Gruene Hall, May 6

Visualize $300 -- 15 crisp $20 bills fresh from the ATM tucked neatly into your wallet. Now envision spending them on your share of the rent, a car payment, a new TV or DVD player. Or maybe you could break it down this way: two tickets to Little Richard, two T-shirts, half a dozen Lone Star longnecks for you and your date, and skinflint tips for the bartender. Who'd be willing to do that, you ask? A couple hundred well-heeled, 50-and-up white folks, that's who. R.J. Penniman entered in grand style, emerging from a Shamu-sized Lincoln Town Car limo flanked by several dapper, stony-faced security men, his alter ego "Little Richard" baring his teeth at the audience in a terrifying rictus grin, cameras flashing. Laying one finger to a piano key, he bellowed "Good Golly Miss Molly," and from that point on, he had the audience eating out of his finely manicured, 68-year-old hand. After admonishing the soundman to "turn up my piano like you do Jerry Lee," he plowed through one number after another -- "Jenny Jenny," "Blueberry Hill," "Tutti Frutti,"and "I'm Walkin'." When he invited ladies from the audience to dance onstage, there were four takers: two nondescript younger women, a blonde who appeared to be roughly 102 years old, and another blond woman who could've been in a Russ Meyer movie 30 years ago. The two younger women were obviously self-conscious, but the Russ Meyer gal danced hard enough for the rest of them. It would have been transcendent, had the foursome not been dancing to a cover of Bob Seger's abominable "Old Time Rock and Roll." Richard also pulled out a weird, swampy version of Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues" and turned "Be Bop A Lula" into a deliberate blues drag that spoke of pure s-e-x. Continually tossing off bon mots like little perfumed hand grenades, Richard addressed one audience member with: "You gonna make me scream like a white woman!! White woman goes, 'Eeeeeeee!!!í' black woman goes, 'Woof!'" The set closer was a version of "Long Tall Sally" sped up nearly to a punk rock blitzkrieg, Richard pummeling that baby grand like it was his worst enemy, and like a flash the security squad hustled him out to the waiting limo. It was pure showbiz, a reminder of why Little Richard is still John Waters' favorite rocker, and if anyone in the audience felt shortchanged for their $79 admission and $50 T-shirts ("They're collector's items, I'm retiring -- they won't make any more. Shut up!") they didn't show it.

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