J. Geils Band Rocks Hometown Crowd in 2015’s Final Boston Show

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The band performing at the Blue Hills Pavilion in Boston on August 27, 2015

The J. Geils Band titled their second live album Blow Your Face Out, and this pretty much remains their intent nearly 40 years after that album’s release. If singer Peter Wolf doesn’t execute the jumping-frog stage moves he did back in that era, forgive him. He’s 69, still slender as a rail, and a whole lot more agile than folks 40 years his junior. Onstage in concert with the J. Geils Band, he’s pretty much on the go all the time. Yeah, there may be a Dorian Gray-like picture he’s got up in his attic.

The J. Geils Band, touring without their namesake guitarist (see accompanying story below) but with Duke Levine and Kevin Barry providing that power, whipped through a nearly two-hour set for hometown fans on August 27, 2015, at the Blue Hills Pavilion in Boston, Mass.

It felt familiar, comforting and energizing and, yes, expectedly a little odd given the history and trajectory of the group. For all intents and purposes, the J. Geils Band shut down after Wolf exited in 1983, a still murky departure chalked up to the inevitable “artistic differences” with songwriting partner/keyboardist Seth Justman. This happened as the band, after years of proving their mettle in the arenas of American cities, was cresting. They had hit the top of the pop mainstream in 1981 with “Centerfold” and “Freeze-Frame” during the early MTV era. (The band did continue briefly after Wolf left, making one album with Justman handling lead vocals.)

The group with Wolf – but without founding drummer Stephen Jo Bladd – reunited for a tour in 1999, and then again a decade later. There were other sporadic one-offs including a 60th birthday party show for bassist Danny Klein that I went to in 2006. As to recording new music, that’s not going to happen. Wolf is working his solo career.

Some personal history: The J. Geils Band was virtually my house band in high school. Growing up in mid-Maine, they played our one viable rock venue, the Bangor Auditorium, with what I recall as “much frequency.” Don’t think I missed a show from 1971 to 1974 and then saw them after I went into college at the University of Maine. Totally enthralled by the high energy of “First I Look at the Purse,” and “Homework,” especially, only learning later that they didn’t write them. That’d be the Contours and Otis Rush, respectively.

Watch the band perform “Hard Driving Man” at this concert

What Geils did in the ‘70s was much like what the Rolling Stones did in the ‘60s: They took obscure (or not) R & B songs which they loved and pumped them up for a rock ‘n’ roll audience. More than a few times the Geils Band was tagged as “the American Rolling Stones” (or, sometimes, “the Jewish Rolling Stones).

Related: We had the final interview with band namesake J Geils

Back to Boston, late August, 2015. The Geils Band packed the early ‘80s classic rock hits into a nice mid-set block – “Sanctuary,” “Freeze-Frame,” “Centerfold” and “Love Stinks” – but those aforementioned early songs were highlights of the set for me. Those, along with “Southside Shuffle,” “Pack Fair and Square,” “Night Time,” “Houseparty” and “Musta Got Lost.” (I was sorry they’d dropped the long John Lee Hooker blues song, “Serves You Right to Suffer,” which they’d played the previous night in New York.) “Whammer Jammer,” harpist Magic Dick’s signature song, remains a big crowd-pleasing blow-out. The semi-reggae hit from 1973, “Give It To Me,” had that frantic breakdown jam/coda after Wolf blew the whistle. This was a well-rehearsed band. No squeaky wheels evident. Serious fun.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Geils’ Blow Your Face Out

Full disclosure: I know some the guys in the band to varying degrees. I started interviewing them back in 1975 for a Maine-based music magazine, Sweet Potato, and continued to do so during my years at the Boston Globe. But I really don’t know what the interpersonal relationships are now offstage. Whatever they are, they were a synchronous unit on stage. Maybe it’s them creating illusion of camaraderie – or maybe it is genuine for that time on stage. If you didn’t know the history, you wouldn’t sense any animosity. And, yes, of course, there’s a payday at the end of the night, so there are financial incentives. But the band felt like a gang and we out there in the crowd, we felt ever-so included, as always.That’s one of Wolf’s strong suits.

Watch them perform “Just Can’t Wait”

Wolf played the jive-talking ringleader, gave generous props to all – including backup singers Andricka Hall and Cheryl Freeman, and very much so to Justman. When it was time for Justman’s leads, Wolf – clad in black, mostly wearing shades – shook his fingers madly at him, paying tribute, miming Justman’s keyboard fingerwork.

Wolf loves dropping the names of blues/rock legends the Geils Band shared the stage with in the days of the old Boston Tea Party club – Howlin’ Wolf, the Jeff Beck Group, Rashaad Roland Kirk – and by extension he’s putting the Geils Band in that lineage: Old-school enough to have been there when it was new, still got enough vim and vigor to keep it fresh for 2015. The business of rock ‘n’ roll – and especially the J. Geils Band brand – is to let the good times roll, and business was good.

[The band finished their tour shortly thereafter and haven’t played together since.]

Ian Hunter opened with a 45-minute set, backed, as he’s been for some time, by the Rant Band. The first song was “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” which I remembered playing to death on college radio – the opening salvo from Hunter’s first post-Mott the Hoople solo album with its “‘allo, ‘allo, ‘allo ‘allo” intro. A big smile crossed my face and then someone reminded me that the odious band Great White had a hit with this in 1989 – and that was how many people know the song. Well, anyway, Hunter reclaimed it this night, as he does every time he sets foot on stage, frankly.

When I interviewed Hunter a few years ago I asked him his secret to keeping fresh – not just playing the expected hits in concert but writing strong new material. He said it had a lot do with not hanging around people his age but with musicians the age of those in his band. They’re not kids exactly – we’re talking guys like guitarist James Mastro (ex-Bongos, Health & Happiness Show) and drummer Steve Holley (whose credits include Wings, Elton John and Joe Cocker) – but guys a generation or two down from Hunter who are still plugged in.

Main complaint: You didn’t get the full-on Hunter show – a mix of old and new that you do get on his headlining club tours – but given the opening slot constrictions, you got a pretty good dose. The mid-set “All the Way From Memphis” remains the ultimate roller coaster ride of rock‘n’roll truthiness – “You gotta stay a young man/You can never grow old!” And the wind-up was sublime: “When I’m President” – the strong and right-now-quite-relevant title track to his most recent album – followed by the Velvet Underground’s’ “Sweet Jane” and Bowie’s/Mott’s “All the Young Dudes.”

Watch them perform “Sweet Jane” earlier that year

Wolf was born March 7, 1946.

Jim Sullivan

4 Comments so far

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  1. Stevie Ray 56
    #1 Stevie Ray 56 24 September, 2015, 09:30

    Great review Jim. This Geils show was my favorite since their first reunion show at Great Woods. And I agree, my one disappointment was that they didn’t play Serves You Right to Suffer.

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  2. Bluzrider
    #2 Bluzrider 8 March, 2020, 08:52

    Being from Detroit, and having the J. Geils Band considering this their second home, they played here. as much as they did Boston. Every time I had a chance to see these guys, I was there, I didn’t want to miss one of their shows. Easily blowing anyone they played with off the stage. “Serves You Right to Suffer” always being one of the highlights of the evening. This band can out Rock and Roll anyone. Always one of the best shows in town when they played here. Every once in a while, you could run into them in the many rock and Roll clubs that Detroit had at the time, and party with them, they always made you feel like you were in the band yourself. Great guys as well as great musicians.

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  3. JDS
    #3 JDS 8 March, 2021, 00:43

    Can someone please confirm a hazy memory from an incredible J.Geils show in about 1978-79 in Cleveland? My memory is that a then-emerging Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes opened and blew everyone away. Then, intermission. Then lights go down and from the back of the auditorium a high school marching band emerges from the back of the arena and plays some rousing song as it takes the stage. Crowd is dumbfounded. Lights go to black briefly, then back on to find the Geils Band blasting away.
    That’s my memory. If it happened, it was obviously pre-planned, but it had the effect of the band telling Southside “Top THIS, mofo.”
    Was I dreaming all these years?

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  4. Chuck the Duck
    #4 Chuck the Duck 29 August, 2023, 12:53

    YES, J.Geils Band, ain’t nothing like a “Party Band.” I was fortunate enough to see them numerous times at the Warehouse in New Orleans, LA. What a great, high energy act, start to finish. One of my favorite concert party bands of the latter 1970s. Thank you for a nice article and a blast from the past of memories!

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