Chuck Berry - guitar, vocals; James Curly Cooke - guitar; Jim Peterman - organ, electric piano; Lonnie Turner - bass; Tim Davis - drums
Bill Graham invited Chuck Berry to perform many times during 1967. San Francisco audiences embraced the man, inspiring some of his finest performances of the era. In June of that year, Berry even recorded a live album at Fillmore Auditorium, backed by the Steve Miller Band, who greatly contributed to his San Francisco sets being so memorable. Fans of Berry's Live at the Fillmore Auditorium album will be pleased to discover that little of the material from that album is repeated here.
This December 1967 set, taken from a bill headlining with local heavyweights Quicksilver Messenger Service and Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin), shows Berry in fine form. Once again, members of the Steve Miller Band were recruited to back him. By this point, it had become a fruitful pairing, with Berry feeling comfortable enough to experiment. Always an audience to embrace spontaneity, the Fillmore crowd encouraged Berry to stretch out more than usual, and he even veers off into a jam here and there.
The mix on the recording favors Berry's guitar, and his playing is often revealed as being more technically proficient than he gets credit for. All the classic riffs are here, but it's the fluidity in the way he expresses them that's really impressive. The rhythm section of Lonnie Turner and Tim Davis also deserve recognition, as they propel this music and provide a distinctive punch that brings out the best in Berry.
Many of the familiar classics are here, and they've rarely sounded better in a live context. Some of the highlights include outstanding versions of "Around And Around", "Let It Rock," "Sweet Little Sixteen" and an impressive jam on "Memphis" that proves the San Francisco music scene was indeed having an effect on Berry's approach. "Don't Lie To Me," which begins the encore, lets Berry flourish as the bluesman he is before closing with more classic rock 'n' roll.
This may be the finest Chuck Berry performance of 1967, full of energy and backed by a band with far more empathy and experience than his usual pickup bands. Keith Richards based an entire career on the riffs heard here, and at his best, the English axeman sounds remarkably similar to the Berry featured on this recording. The mix could be better balanced, but those interested in rock 'n' roll guitar will be thoroughly delighted regardless - Berry comes through loud and clear.
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