The J. Geils Band was (is?) three distinct varieties. The most well known 1980s version leaned heavily on the new wave sound, with generous amounts of humor to boot, and was rewarded with a tidy string of hits. In 1984, lead singer Peter Wolf went solo and keyboardist Seth Justman took the lead position, edging out the band’s namesake guitarist, John Geils, a little bit more.
That first iteration, however, was a classic R&B-influenced bunch of rowdy houserockers. Think the earliest Springsteen records, or more pointedly Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. Think Muscle Shoals and Wilson Pickett at his most wicked. Now try to imagine a point between version one and two, where the group is holding fast to its leather and denim ethic, but a change was surely about to come.
Nah, that’s too hard. Just refer to the new release The J. Geils Band House Party, Live In Germany. Sourced from the West German concert TV program Rockpalast, the group tears through some of their greatest non-hits…songs we would recognize now, but probably wouldn’t have known when they were in their ascendance with Love Stinks or Freeze Frame. We’re talking about their cover of The Showstoppers’ “Ain’t Nothing But A House Party,” “Sanctuary,” “Nightmares,” “Whammer Jammer,” and the one-time ketchup jingle “Give It To Me.” The performances are full-blooded and full-throated, and almost daringly so, with more of a hard rock kick than your average party band. It’s more than just a revved-up audience of German rock fans going crazy. It was a clear indication that this version of the band intended to go out with a bang.
Eagle Vision has packed the audio disc of the concert with the live DVD video from that Rockpalast. It looks good overall, considering it is around 35 years old. There are some inherent flaws to the image that no one could have done much about, specifically the quality of shielding of video cables during the shoot flaring back when the volume signal got too high. There’s also the unintentionally hilarious subtitles to let West German TV viewers know which song is playing, even though delays and absences make it clear the poor fellow running the chyron unit didn’t know J. Geils songs from J. Geils Band from his boss’ Aunt Helga.
Geils is at his most electric here, and harmonica master Richard Salwitz, a/k/a Magic Dick tears things up forthrightly. Wolf jumps around and basically puts on a great show as frontman, and everyone has lots and lots of hair. It was 1979, after all.
The band has had quite a few live records, but this one really seems to catch the spirit of a group ready for transition and itching to confront the unknown. We’d know that aspect soon enough. If you’re looking for living-room-trasher of a concert offering, this one will fit the bill succinctly, and is highly recommended.