Johnny Rivers | 11.07.15

live johnny-riversHis acoustic version of “House of the Rising Sun” was reimagined as a meditation of lost youth that featured the evening’s most intimate vocal.




The Pageant, St. Louis

When an artist like Johnny Rivers is closing in on six decades of carrying the rock flag through a million changing trends and new music genres, you have to figure that everybody’s favorite “Secret Agent Man” knows what he’s doing. It’s been a while since he’s visited St. Louis, and if there were any concerns about his abilities at this late stage in his career, they certainly evaporated when he hit the Pageant stage for a packed house of old-school rock ’n’ rollers.

His voice was in top form, even though he joked he was sounding “a little bit like Joe Cocker,” presumably from a cold. Of course, it didn’t matter to the crowd, who took advantage of the open dance floor in front of the stage, transporting themselves to a more innocent and mischievous time for the remainder of the night.

After kicking off the evening with “Midnight Special,” Rivers sprinkled the set list with his own chart toppers like “Mountain of Love,” and some tastefully selected covers that fit his soulful tenor and road-honed guitar work. His well-known cover of Willie Dixon’s “The Seventh Son” perfectly displayed his penchant for bluesy phrasing, while his acoustic version of “House of the Rising Sun” was reimagined as a meditation of lost youth that featured the evening’s most intimate vocal.

Rivers’ repartee with the crowd was a particular highlight, with him introducing “The Snake” by saying, “You ladies have probably brought home a snake or two.” He acknowledged the crowd up front attempting to sing “Happy Birthday” between numbers by saying “I know, today’s my birthday. I’ve had a few, and I hope I have a few more.”

Members of terrific opening band Butch Wax & the Hollywoods joined Rivers for a few songs, most notably on a rollicking cover of The Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Loving.” After Rivers asked the ladies in the audience to sing, he challenged the men to give it a shot; and received such an enthusiastic response, the musician quipped, “You guys must’ve taken your Viagra!”

Chuck Berry, Jr came onstage for a mini-tribute to his legendary father, trading riffs with Rivers on “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Memphis, Tennessee,” before an encore of “Maybelline” and “Secret Agent Man” that brought the house down, as expected.

As the other musicians and guests left the stage, it was just Rivers and an acoustic guitar performing a moving, nostalgia-tinged version of “Swayin’ to the Music.” He brought the Butch Wax gang and Berry back out for a singalong of the classic Bob Marley track “One Love,” which the band perfectly dovetailed into the beautiful “Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By).”

Just like jazz and blues musicians, more rockers are adopting the attitude that age really is just a number; and on Saturday night, Rivers showed he’s got plenty of gas left in the Cadillac. | Jim Ousley

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