The J. Geils Band: House Party – Live in Germany (A PopEntertainment.com Music Review)
Updated: Apr 15
J Geils Band: House Party – Live in Germany
THE J. GEILS BAND – HOUSE PARTY LIVE IN GERMANY (2015)
Featuring Peter Wolf, Seth Justman, J. Geils, Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz, Danny Klein and Stephen Jo Bladd.
Directed by Christian Wagner.
Distributed by Eagle Vision/Universal Music Group. 67 minutes. Not Rated.
The J. Geils Band recently got back together for their first major tour in about three decades, opening up for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band on that rocker’s massive Ride Out world tour.
Of course, being The J. Geils Band, that could not happen without a certain amount of drama. Actually, the band that did the tour was the entire classic lineup of Boston’s favorite party band, except for the band’s namesake. J. Geils is suing the rest of the band members for using the band name – his name – without his permission.
Now, no one has ever really believed that J. Geils was the main cog in the group. In fact, in their heyday my friends and I used to have arguments about why the band bore his name. Lead singer Peter Wolf was the face and voice of the band. Wolf and keyboardist Seth Justman wrote most of the band’s original material. Justman also produced some of the band’s biggest albums. Magic Dick’s stellar harmonica was an unmistakable part of the band’s sound as well. Comparatively, Geils was just the lead guitarist and backing vocalist, a perfectly fine lead guitarist, but there is a reason why you never heard about J. Geils guitar solos.
However, since the split in 1983 when Wolf left the band to work on a solo project (depending on whose side of the story you believe, he either quit or was fired) the group has been a morass of politics and backbiting.
Wolf leaving the band was one of those tragic Van Halen vs. David Lee Roth-type of musical divorces where neither the band nor the lead singer ever did anything nearly as good separately as they did together as a band.
Oh sure, Wolf’s first solo single “Lights Out” was a pretty big smash but was quickly forgotten. (When was the last time you heard it, even on 80s nostalgia stations?) He had another minor hit a few years later called “Come As You Are,” but that also disappeared almost immediately and is now best remembered for the quirky music video of Wolf hopping through a small town – directly based on a scene that Bobby Van did in the old movie Small Town Girl.
The band, in the meantime, promoted Justman to lead vocalist and released just one more album, You’re Getting Even While I’m Getting Odd. That album contained a minor, minor hit with the surprisingly catchy “Concealed Weapons,” but was considered to be a huge bomb nonetheless. The next year, the band recorded the title track to the cult classic horror film Fright Night (which was even further from a hit than “Concealed Weapons”) and then the band broke up.
The band finally got back together (with all classic members, even Geils) at the turn of the millennium for a small reunion tour. They periodically have gotten back together in limited spurts since then, with the split with Geils happening in 2012.
Released to coincide with the Seger tour is a DVD/CD version of a vintage 1979 show by the band – House Party: Live in Germany (not to be confused with A Houseparty, the two-disk hits anthology released by Rhino in the 1990s.) This concert, originally recorded for the legendary German music series Rockpalast, shows the band at the height of their boogie-down powers, but it also shows the band at an earlier crossroads in their career.
In 1979, The J. Geils Band had gotten a cult reputation as a good time party band. They’d even had a few minor hits over the past eight years. However, their one big hit to that point, “Must Of Got Lost,” was five years in the rear-view mirror at the time of this concert. (That song is also significant in its absence on this set – the band didn’t have many well-known singles, so it’s surprising they would skip over their biggest.) They had recently changed labels from their long-time home at Atlantic to EMI. Their most recent album Sanctuary had done okay, featuring a minor hit with “One Last Kiss” (peaking at #35 on the Billboard charts.)
At that point, little did they know that they were less than a year away from their fortunes completely turning around. In 1980, they would release the classic album Love Stinks, whose title track and follow-up single “Come Back” would get them back at the top of the rock charts. Then, the year following that, the band would explode into superstardom on their Freeze Frame album, topping the charts with both the nostalgic hit “Centerfold” and the new-wave-channeling title track. That album would also contain two other staples of the band’s career, the gorgeous ballad “Angel in Blue” and the scorching dance-rocker “Flamethrower.” And then, with the band finally at the apex of fame, as stated earlier, they imploded.
However, that little spurt of stardom was still to come when this concert was filmed and recorded. (Which may sadly affect this set’s sales potential – most of the band’s best-known hits are missing in action, including the aforementioned “Must of Got Lost.”)
Still, what is here is pretty damned primo, hard rocking, heavy partying, chugging dance beats wailing away into a German night. Thirty-five years after the fact, we tend to forget what a tight little unit The J. Geils Band was in the day, and House Party: Live In Germany is a damned good reminder for their power.
Wolf was one hell of a charismatic front-man, strutting like a peacock with the supreme confidence of a Mick Jagger on sweet jams like “One Last Kiss” or their rocking cover of Bobby Womack & the Valentino’s “Looking For a Love.” The band scorches through covers of The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go” and the Contours’ “First I Look At the Purse.” And Magic Dick’s blues harp licks – the man is rightfully known as one of the best harmonica players in the world – give the songs an other-worldly funkiness.
I’m glad that this long forgotten piece of music history has made it back to the public consciousness. It’s a good event and a fun piece of musical excavation. And if the guys in the band can find some old footage circa the Freeze-Frame tour to release down the line, all the better.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 15, 2015.
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