Little Richard—one of the ground-level architects of rock n' roll—played Memphis' Beale Street Music Fest Sunday night, delivering an invigorating set in spite of his own health problems.
After being wheeled up to his piano on a characteristically ostentatious golden throne, Richard repeatedly—and unnecessarily, I might add—apologized for his suffering health.
"My hip broke instead my body and they haven't taken it out yet," Richard explained to the audience after a few songs. Richard underwent hip replacement surgery in 2009. "I've been through a lot." Before leaving the stage, he asked, "y'all pray for me to heal my body." But don't freak out! It wasn't a desperate plea—he just sounded like he was covering his bases.
"I'm sorry I can't do it like it's supposed to be done," he said, sounding genuinely downcast. The audience—a cross-generational crowd reflecting his enduring influence—let loose with a protective roar of love. "Do you really still love me?" Richard asked. "Oh, you gonna make me scream like a white girl."
Speaking of screaming, that was the only musical part of his show where his fatigue became obvious. His fingers danced over the ivories with nimble assurance and he seemed in control of his 10-person backing band, but he fell noticeably short when attempting that hair-raising scream.
But his poise and charm kept the crowd jubilant. While Richard playing "Tutti Frutti" in 2012 isn't as dangerous as in 1955, originals like "Ready Teddy," "Long Tall Sally" and "Good Golly Miss Molly" still hit the ear with an undeniable ferocity.
His take on rock disciple Paul McCartney's "I Saw Her Standing There" was smokin' enough for the lady next to me to start moshing, and his puckish intro to a cover of Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" was a hilariously bizarre little interaction. "I need two people to come and dance for me," Richard said, to which the audience screamed their affirmation. "Can I get a big fat girl and a big fat boy?" After that, there weren't so many volunteers. He ended up settling for an average-sized, all-female group.
Overall, it was an incredible show from a talent whose body may not be what it used to be, but whose stage presence hasn't diminished one iota.