Chuck Berry falls ill, cuts concert short

CHICAGO — About an hour into a rapidly-deteriorating concert at the Congress Theater Saturday night, Chuck Berry slumped over an accompanist's keyboard before being helped offstage.

The 84-year-old rock 'n' and roll legend and a backing band of three Chicago musicians attempted to resume the show for the packed house about 15 minutes later, but Berry almost immediately was taken off again to be checked by paramedics. His agent said Sunday he suffered from exhaustion.

After being examined, Berry returned one last time to thank the fans who had waited in hopes for the show to continue, but he left the stage — using a bit of his signature "duck walk" — without playing again. Shortly afterward, he walked out of the theater's stage door on his own into an awaiting limousine. Berry signed a release saying he was OK, and he was not taken to a hospital, according to fire department spokesman Joe Roccasalva. "All I know is he felt faint, he felt weak, and I was told to call 9-1-1," said Michael Petryshyn, the concert's promoter, after Berry left.

Berry had been active in recent days. He performed two shows in New York City the night before. Although Berry performs regularly in his hometown of St. Louis, he infrequently gives concerts elsewhere. A call to Berry's management Sunday was not returned.

The show on Saturday started promisingly. Taking the stage in a red sequined shirt, black slacks and a white sailor hat, Berry began with "Roll Over Beethoven," one of his many 1950s hits, which formed the foundation for guitar-based rock 'n' and roll.

Although Berry played that and following songs — "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "School Days"—at slower tempos than the original recordings, he filled them with his classic guitar riffs and sang them with authority. Drummer Steve Gillis and bassist Bill Stephens kept the songs swinging steadily, and Vijay Tellis-Nayak added boogie piano.

Things then quickly began going off the rails. Berry played snippets of blues songs and an unsteady version of "Memphis Tennessee," before taking an extended pause to try to retune his guitar, complaining that it was out of key with the piano. He made several unsuccessful attempts at "Let It Rock," in part seated at the piano, and performed disjointed bits of "Carol" and "Johnny B. Goode."

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