FORT WORTH -- Legends cast long shadows and rock icons rarely age gracefully -- the medium doesn't really allow for it. The music is, all these decades after its inception, firmly a young person's game, built upon the wild energy and cocksureness of a life still being formed.
Some lucky few can, briefly, become young once again. More often, the results are uncomfortable, sobering and simply painful.
I sat, increasingly brokenhearted, and watched Saturday night as 85-year-old Chuck Berry -- the very architect of rock 'n' roll -- struggled in vain to provide a cohesive, hourlong concert experience for the few hundred gathered in the Fort Worth Convention Center's Ballroom B.
The night was erratic and bizarrely paced, with a pair of opening acts -- Cory Elrod and Andi Laree -- whose sound could not have been further from Berry's bawdy, energetic style.
Shortly before 9 p.m., Berry, in a jaunty sailor's cap, came striding on stage to strike up Roll Over Beethoven. The crowd roared its appreciation, giving Berry the first of several standing ovations. Backed by five musicians, including his son, Charles Atwood Berry, on rhythm guitar, Berry presided over a lurching, imperfect set that was nevertheless full of feeling.
The hits were all there: You Never Can Tell, Johnny B. Goode, Rock and Roll Music and Nadine (during which the famous duck-walk briefly appeared). Berry frequently dropped verses, struck bum notes and retired to the back or side of the stage and simply jammed with his collaborators. The flickers of vintage Berry were fleeting. The moment that cut the deepest? Berry launching into Maybellene for one verse, before shifting abruptly into Rock and Roll Music for the second time, as the band ground away on the former song behind him.
For the night's final tune, Nadine, Berry invited any women from the audience to come dance on stage. A rush of ladies joined him, and as the song progressed, he shrank from the stage, eventually disappearing out an exit door behind it. As suddenly as he had materialized, he was gone.
I refuse to nail Berry to the wall for continuing to perform. Only he will know when it's time to hang up his guitar for good. To have seen him at all is fortunate, and something of a coup for Fort Worth.
But Chuck Berry cannot escape his shadows now, and if Saturday's show is any indication, they are only going to grow longer and darker.