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Interview:
The J. Geils Band delivers a Motor City shakedown at the Fillmore
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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DETROIT -- Detroit is never just a stop on the J. Geils' Band itinerary.

The metro area has been a home away from home for the Boston group ever since it started touring during the late 60s. All or part of its three live albums were recorded at Detroit venues, and fans in these parts are as happy to hear deep cuts such as "Southside Shuffle," "Everytime" and "Pack Fair and Square" as they are to singalong to hits such as "Just Can't Wait," "Love Stinks," "Freeze Frame" and "Centerfold."

The Geils crew renewed its Detroit love affair on Friday night, Nov. 14, with the first of two sold-out shows at the Fillmore -- an incendiary 25-song, two-hour-plus performance that started hot and never really let up, at least not until the nine-piece group rolled out the night's only ballad, "Start All Over Again," during the second encore. For the most part it was a sweaty, old school rock 'n' roll concert experience, with none of the di rigeur high-tech trimmings save for frontman Peter Wolf, a flesh-and-blood special effect whose dervish, James Brown-inspired dancing belied his 68 years and certainly fit the timeless quality of the group's blues- and R&B-stepped rock.

And Friday's show was certainly a bit more charged because of the mutual affection between the city and the band -- one always wants to play a little better for family, after all -- and by Geils' upcoming stint opening for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band.

After a listless performance opening for Bon Jovi at Ford Field during the summer of 2013, Geils clearly felt more comfortable in the Fillmore's up-close-and-personal confines. Following a strong set by local favorites the Howling Diablos, the Geils instrumentalists took the stage for the instrumental "Sno-cone," with each musician getting a chance to solo before Wolf, in his fedora and shades, strutted out to lead the urgent "Hard Drivin' Man." It was off to the races from there, with the group digging deep into its early days -- including "Looking For a Love," Otis Rush`s "Homework," "Night Time," "Cruisin' For a Love," "Make Up Your Mind" and the aforementioned aficionado favorites -- and spicing the songs with solos by harmonica ace Magic Dick Salwitz, keyboardist Seth Justman and lead guitarist Duke Levine, the latter in place of group namesake John "J." Geils, who's been out of the band since 2012.

Levine also added a nice extra flavor to Geils' rendition of the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go" with a slide guitar solo that lent a touch of Americana to the mix, while "Detroit Breakdown" was a balcony-shaking highlight matched by the likes of "Ain't Nothin' But a House Party" and the Contours' "First I Look at the Purse."

Wolf's between-song raps stayed tight and to the point, as if he didn't want to get in the way of the show's propulsive energy. Even his infamous Wolfa Goofa "poem" before the show-closing "Must Of Got Lost" was delivered at breakneck speed. Of course, he could have recited "War and Peace" and the Fillmore crowd would have eaten it up, but the frontman smartly made room for a maximum amount of music.

"We started in Boston but we got our rock 'n' roll legs here in Detroit city," Wolf told the crowd towards the end of the night. And on Friday, the Geils Band showed those legs are as strong as they've ever been.

The J. Geils Band and the Howling Diablos perform again at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15, at the Fillmore Detroit, but tickets are sold out.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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