As someone who came of age right when MTV was taking off, the videos for “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame” by the J. Geils Band are burned into my psyche. And they are all you need to know about the J. Geils Band, right?
Well, not really. Although they are probably the band’s best-known songs, they aren’t really representative of their prodigious output and reputation of one of the best live acts of the 1970s.
Much of that reputation stems from the talents and energy of former J. Geils Band frontman and singer Peter Wolf, who gave a stellar performance at the SOhO Restaurant & Music Club on Saturday night, accompanied by the Midnight Travelers — that is, Tom West (keyboards), Kevin Barry (guitar), Marty Ballou (bass), Duke Levine (guitar, mandolin) and Tom Arey (drums).
At the show, Wolf highlighted his solo career, which started not too long after the J. Geils Band’s hit MTV days, plus there were a few gems from the J. Geils Band catalog. “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame” were notably absent from the setlist.
There were several songs from Wolf’s latest album, Midnight Souvenirs, which is a really good mature rock album, without being boring as the phrase “mature rock album” naturally suggests. This included the ballad “The Green Fields of Summer,” before which Wolf brought out a tray of champagne to toast the song’s co-writer, local songwriter extraordinaire Will Jennings, who was in the audience. A more rockin’ highlight from the same album was “I Don’t Wanna Know,” which had Wolf contributing some manic maraca madness at the end.
Much of the evening’s charm was Wolf’s amusing stories, which served as introductions to the songs.
For the intro to the Otis Rush cover “Homework,” he told of the time a photographer spotted him and blues legend Howlin’ Wolf hanging out backstage; when the photographer wanted to take a shot of the “two Wolves,” Howlin’ Wolf declared that there was only one Wolf there.
During the intro to the country-tinged “Always Asking for You,” he told of being on a bumpy Piedmont Airlines flight with Johnny Cash, on which Cash joked to the shaky Bible-reading Carl Perkins, “If it’s going down, you’re going up.”
Probably the best intro was when Wolf told of coming across a rare song in the deep Appalachian music style, a song that was issued on Folkways Records and ended up on the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music. But when Wolf started singing, it was clear that it was actually the J. Geils Band song “Love Stinks,” but done in a traditional country style.
After “Waiting on the Moon,” which had Wolf slowly walking into the mesmerized crowd as he sang, things kicked into high gear with “Can’t Get Started” and the J. Geils Band songs “Give It to Me” and “Looking for a Love.”
For an encore, they played “Nothing But the Wheel” at the request of an audience member, “It’s Too Late for Me,” which on Midnight Souvenirs was a duet with Merle Haggard, and the smokin’ J. Geils classic “Must of Got Lost.”
If you just know Wolf from “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame,” you’re missing out a wealth of great solo and other J. Geils Band material. And one suspects that Wolf was in town to collaborate with Jennings on some new songs — if that’s the case, I expect that it’ll be well worth checking out.
Long Way Back Again
Always Asking for You
I Don’t Wanna Know
The Green Fields of Summer
Cry One More Time
Waiting on the Moon
Can’t Get Started
Give It to Me
Fun for a While
Looking for a Love
Nothing But the Wheel
It’s Too Late for Me
Must of Got Lost
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.