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Published: Friday, 2/9/2007

Reunited? - J. Geils Band: Rock's showmen

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The J. Geils Band opened for everyone from the Rolling Stones to Foghat, and headlined for years after that. The J. Geils Band opened for everyone from the Rolling Stones to Foghat, and headlined for years after that.
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Reunited, and it feels so good.

It does?

It does. Don t ask why it feels so good to know Van Halen is (probably) getting together this summer for a tour with original singer David Lee Roth. Don t ask

why two decades after splitting up to do battle with James Taylor for middle-of-the-road supremacy we can t wait for Sting and the Police to put aside differences and charge $85 a ticket for their summer reunion.

But we can t.

The reunion tour is the cornerstone of a played-out concert industry inevitable, creatively destitute, the last refuge for pop scoundrels. And yet, can t we do better than the Eagles again?

With summer concert schedules just around the corner, we got to thinking: If reunion shows are unavoidable, why not suggest a couple of bands we want to see

reconstituted for a summer tour?

(That said: Don t go ahead with the reunion album. We really don t want to buy it anyway.)

I say, "J. Geils Band."

You say, "cheesy."

And I forgive you.

I can't hold it against anyone whose lasting images of the J. Geils Band - the pre-eminent live American rock band of the '70s - are "Centerfold" and "Freeze Frame," light kerfuffle that belied the band's R&B soul.

The group's last disc with lead singer and frontman extraordinaire Peter Wolf, "Freeze Frame" was an early '80s pop tour de force: overarranged, heavy on the synths and processed drums, bloated, and wildly popular. Some of the album was excellent, and most of it was all in good fun. "Centerfold," with its randy tale of finding an old girlfriend in the pages of a "girly magazine," was a pop pleasure that you don't even have to feel guilty about.

But it was nothing like the body of work the Boston band produced throughout the '70s: lean, primal, sweaty, rhythm and blues and rock that was fun and serious about not being very serious. Those discs - most notably "Sanctuary," "Monkey Island," and "Nightmares ... and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle" - sound just as vital today as they did 20 years ago. "Freeze Frame" does not.

Anyone who went to rock shows in the '70s saw the J. Geils Band. It opened for everyone from the Rolling Stones to Foghat, and headlined for years after that. It was a hard-working band signed to the Atlantic label whose members were true grinders: They toured, they recorded, they toured, they recorded, year after year.

Wolf was a dynamic showman who torched whatever stage he was on, dancing like a madman while strobe lights flashed and the band veered into psychedelic rhythm and blues jams that could suck the air out of the venue and leave you exhausted.

Magic Dick made the harmonica sound like an entire horn section. Stephen Jo Bladd and Danny Klein on drums and bass, respectively, were wound tighter than any rock rhythm section alive. Throw in Seth Justman's crazy keyboard flourishes and J. Geils blasting away on that Gibson Flying V and every concert was 2 1/2 hours of noisy, funky, get-down-and-sweat bliss.

It was Muddy Waters meets the Rolling Stones at a James Brown concert.

Most of all, it was fun. There was spontaneity built into Wolf's stage raps (even though the old "Raputa the Beauta" thing before "Must of Got Lost" became a bit tired), and the guy personified hipster cool in a way that few lead singers do anymore. When Wolf would sidle up to the mic and intone, "We are gonna BLOW ... YOUR ... FACE ... OUT!" before the band slammed headlong into a song, it was punky in intensity. Every show meant something, even if it was just getting slammed back in your seat and watching a limber, tight band going to work for a couple of hours.

I miss that. I miss seeing a band that isn't so hung up on its own sense of history that every concert moment seems choreographed to deliver some kind of message (U2, Pearl Jam, Springsteen), and I miss the entertainment coming from the music rather than the spectacle (Flaming Lips, Panic! At The Disco.)

And I miss seeing a band that played songs that were down and dirty, rather than loaded with meaning: "Give It To Me" was always a naked expression of sexual longing that could turn into epic jams; "Love Stinks," with its glorious garage rock power chord introduction, was always a highlight, and "Detroit Breakdown," a fierce paean to partying in one of rock's unofficial capitals, would gather a frightening momentum.

One final point: A reunited J. Geils Band would boost the group's chances of getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an honor it deserves far more than the many obscure '50s acts that have been inducted.

So wipe away the cheese, put the synthesizers in the trash, and ditch the whole '80s thing, boys. It's time for an authentic blues band to regroup and reinvigorate a concert scene that's begging for old-fashioned showmanship and musical prowess.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com

or 419-724-6159.



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