Tuesday, November 15, 2016
When Peter Wolf introduced “Nothing but the Wheel” from his 2002 solo album Sleepless, he described the distinguished company he kept while creating it. “I had the pleasure of recording this song with rock and roll royalty,” he said. “Well, real royalty – Sir Mick Jagger.”
The fact is, Wolf himself stands in that category as American rock and roll royalty. Through his time fronting the J. Geils Band and ensuing solo career including the roots and R&B heard on his excellent new LP A Cure for Loneliness, Wolf has established his bona fides on stage and in the studio. Elvis may have been declared the King of Rock and Roll, but Wolf has stolen every available chance to sneak onto the throne, one leg slung slyly over an armrest.
Dressed all in black save for his tiger-striped jacket, Wolf shimmied, spun and did the Boston Monkey during songs like “Can’t Get Started” – a pop-rock corker from 1987’s Come As You Are that was recast as a roadhouse raver a la Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones. The paradoxically youthful 70 year old did knee drops while crooning to ladies in the front seats during the pleading “Cry One More Time.”
The singer was also a great raconteur, telling stories about growing up in the Bronx and encounters with his musical heroes. He described hearing the Stanley Brothers as an early introduction to bluegrass, followed by a version of “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” that segued into a bluegrass version of J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks.” He told about watching a hotel room television in the wee hours with blues giant John Lee Hooker. “That Lassie is one mother-f—ing smart dog,” Hooker was said to have remarked.
Wolf was accompanied by his ace East Coast band The Midnight Travelers, naming them all as “artists,” rather than merely mortal musicians. The players had the goods to back up the claim. By request from staunch fans the Harrisons, present at their 289th Wolf concert, the group played Hooker’s “Serves You Right to Suffer.” The stunner featured an extended guitar solo wicked enough to make a true believer of anyone who hadn’t previously seen Duke Levine shred his poor Telecaster to splinters. Wolf’s longtime recording partner Kenny White took the lead with a spine-tingling organ solo during the pensive “Holdin’ On,” while dexterous drummer Tom Arey played an eloquent mallet pattern and doubled on percussion. Marty Ballou brought soulful bass and background vocals to “Peace of Mind,” dedicated to Chicago native Curtis Mayfield.
Chicago’s great alternative country music stalwart Robbie Fulks was called up as a special guest. Fulks and old friend Levine played “Sweet as Sweet Comes” from Fulks’ latest album Upland Stories. Wolf had him stay for a rowdy duet of Geils’ “Truck Drivin’ Man.” Fulks played a hot chicken pickin’ solo on his acoustic guitar before trading off to Levine for another stinging electric excursion. Wolf pulled up onto his tiptoes in a vain attempt to match Fulks’ towering height as the two sang in harmony.
“Time is the school in which we learn that time is the fire in which we burn,” said Wolf, quoting poet Delmore Schwartz before performing the nostalgic and melancholy “Fun for a While” from A Cure for Loneliness. The band brought the energy back with a hot version of Otis Rush’s “Homework.” Wolf grabbed fistfuls of maracas to shake during “I Don’t Wanna Know” from 2010’s Midnight Souvenirs.
Tributes to Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke were called as the band began the title track from 1984’s Lights Out, a song co-written with soul singer Don Covay, author of “Chain of Fools” and “I Was Checkin’ Out, She Was Checkin’ In.” Wolf waded into the crowd during “I Need You Tonight” from the same album.
Wolf praised his bandmates early and often, noting that White and Levine had CDs in the foyer. “All my CDs are collectors items now,” quipped Wolf. “You can get $6.99 for ‘em on eBay.” Readers hoping to acquire the full set should note – that statement is a cruel lie.
The set closed on a sky-high note with Bobby Womack’s “Lookin’ for a Love” (as recorded on J. Geils Band’s 1971 album The Morning After), followed by an encore of the Woofa Goofa favorite “Must of Got Lost.”
– Review by Jeff Elbel. Photos by Philamonjaro.