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J. Geils Band Brings The Houseparty Back "Home"
DETROIT -- Of all the bands Detroit has adopted as de facto hometowners, from Kiss and Aerosmith to White Zombie, none has become part of the fabric in quite the same way as the J. Geils Band.
So it was no surprise that when the Boston group took the stage Friday night (April 24) for the first of two special shows at the Fillmore Detroit, it felt as much like a family reunion -- albeit with about 3,000 relatives and a similar number coming Saturday (April 25 ) -- as it did a concert. It was, as the group itself sang, "nuthin' but a houseparty," complete with balloons and a special guest -- Kid Rock, who incorporated Geils' frenetic frontman Peter Wolf in his 2008 Rock N Roll Revival tour and showed up to sing "Centerfold" with his band on Friday.
Mostly, thought, the two-hour, 22-song throwdown reminded the Fillmore faithful why Geils, last seen in these parts ushering in the 21st Century at the Palace of Auburn Hills, clicks so well in the Motor City. It's nothing more, or less, than the fact that it's a hard-working band rooted in the kind of rhythm & blues that's always been a cornerstone of the city's cultural soundtrack, whether it's John Lee Hooker, whose "It Serves You Right to Suffer" Geils played with lusty abandon, or Motown, which Geils -- aided by a new drummer, a second guitarist and a backing vocalist -- tapped for the show-opening version of the Contours' "First I Look at the Purse" and an encore rendering of the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go." More of its repertoire plays as "hits" in Detroit than anywhere else save Boston, and having a master showman in Wolf, who at 63 still wears leather slacks like a second skin and still has his Jackie Wilson and Mick Jagger moves down pat, certainly maintained the visceral thrill that's always been part of seeing the band.
And when Wolf spoke on Friday about days playing the Cinderella Ballroom or the Eastown Theater, he could certainly be sure there were more than a few in the Fillmore who were actually there. He was talking to friends, in other words.
That it was, in effect, an oldies show -- Geils' last album is 26 years old, after all -- was inherent, and the well-liquored and occasionally fist-fighting crowd wouldn't have it any other way. Geils offer up plenty of other covers it's managed to make its own over the years: Otis Rush's "Homework;" Walter Price's "Pack Fair and Square;" Juke Joint Jimmy's "Cruisin' For Love" and "Whammer Jammer," a harmonica showpiece for Magic Dick Salwitz); Harvey Scales & the Seven Sounds' "Love-Itis." But the group mined its own canon, too, for the likes of "Hard Drivin' Man," "Sanctuary," "Give it to Me" and the mainstream early '80s hits "Love Stinks," "I Just Can't Wait," "Centerfold" and "Freeze-Frame."
And, of course, there was "Musta Got Lost" with Wolf's long rap about a cheating lover, which he managed to update to include cell phones, text messaging and Kid Rock as the tale's Lothario.
The show also served to remind the faithful that while the dervish Wolf dominated the stage, Geils' soloists -- Salwitz, keyboardist Seth Justman and namesake guitarist J. (for Jerome) Geils -- held their own with instrumental fireworks and certainly lit things up song after song on Friday, particularly on workouts such as "Hard Drivin' Man," "It Serves You Right to Suffer" and "Give it To Me."
By the end of the night, the Geils crew found you could indeed go "home" again, and when Wolf told the fans that "I wish we were here for seven days and seven nights, the response certainly indicated the group would be welcome.
It was, in the end, a visit that was
Geils' set list on Friday night included...
First I Look at the Purse
Hard Drivin' Man
Pack Fair and Square
Cruisin' For Love
It Serves You Right to Suffer
Give it to Me
Musta Got Lost
Lookin' For a Love
Centerfold (with Kid Rock)
Where Did Our Love Go
I Just Can't Wait
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