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Who Says You Can't Go Back Home?

or, The Native Son's Triumphant Return to NYC Roots

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Peter Wolf performs at 2010 Rock Hall inductions
Peter Wolf performs at 2010 Rock Hall inductions, photo by Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

Editor's note: There is a standing invitation for About.com Classic Rock readers to submit reviews of concerts you've attended. The latest one shows us that, in the case of Peter Wolf (J. Geils Band) you can go home again!

Peter Wolf captivates the City Winery, NYC February 23 & 24, 2013

Reviewed by Jim Smith

Let’s get the highlights out of the way. These two nights were, without a doubt, the most impressive back-to-back nights of music I have ever witnessed. That’s the Cliff Notes version. Now settle in for the rest of the story.

Just as New York was so bad they had to name it twice, this was the second time in as many years that Mother Nature caused harmonic distortion in my musical world.

First was Hurricane Isaac, which forced the cancellation of Rib Fest at Jones Beach Theater in August 2011 – a reasonably impressive bill by anyone’s standards: B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and the 2011 version of the J Geils Band. In 2012, super-storm Sandy wiped out chunks of my old stomping grounds (including a few friends' homes) and forced the postponement of Peter Wolf and The Midnight Travelers at a great venue, New York’s City Winery.

Not to be denied, I made plans to venture out of South Florida’s oppressive 70 degree February weather to catch two re-scheduled nights in New York, New York: original home to both the performer and this story’s author. As fate would have it, opening night’s opening act featured rain, windy 34 degree, finger freezing temps and absolutely the hottest place to be in a city with a mind-numbing number of options.

Then there’s this group of devoted NY/Eastern corridor area fans who, over the years have become like an extended family, after initially connecting via social media. Many of us caught both shows, some only able to catch one night. We came from New Jersey, Philly, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida (you know, New York City's sixth borough.)

190 chances to impress

Peter Wolf and reviewer Jim Smith backstage at New York's City WineryWolf and reviewer Jim Smith backstage at New York's City Winery February 24, 2013, photo © Jim Smith

After working concert security in NY for 25 years, and seeing more than my share of shows while running the frontage pit and after show hospitality, I have a well-honed list of artists who I want to see for the umpteenth time. Peter Wolf rides, with no competition, at the head of the field.  With Wolf/J. Geils gig numbers 189 and 190 now firmly tucked under my belt, there is a frame of reference that few can appreciate.

I turned to my buddy, Philly Chuck as Wolf was launching into a rap that preceded the opening night’s second song and said, "He’s in a mood. We’re in for something special." Nothing more true has ever passed my lips. Wolf and his Midnight Travelers (Tommy West on keyboards, Kevin Barry on guitar and steel guitar, "The Emperor of Jazz" - Marty Ballou, on bass, musical director Duke Levine on guitar  and Tom Avery on drums and moving violations) were in top form. With the exception of Ballou and West, all other offenders were part and parcel of the 2012 J Geils Band Tour. They have their chops honed and their skills down to a science.

With Wolf in total control and more frenetic than any soon-to-be-67 year old man should ever be, the next two hours and 20 minutes were a romp through virtually every musical style known to mankind. Yeah, Pete even crooned an operatic arpeggio for good measure. The set covered a discography that has been more than five decades in the making, going back to the earliest JGB release, and including a new, unreleased cut co-written by Wolf & Tim Mayer. “It Was Fun for a While” chronicles the life cycle of those predisposed to the occasional party.

Special guests were in attendance (gotta love playing in the Big Apple) and a few took to the stage for some old school jamming. Arno Hecht of The Uptown Horns and his sax led to the incineration of “Can’t Get Started” on Sunday evening. Wolf’s three time producer Kenny White was on hand both evenings, and perhaps the most poignant moment came on Saturday night when guitarist extraordinaire, Jeff Golub (sideman to Billy Squire, Rod Stewart and countless others) joined Wolf, White and ensemble for a rave up rendition of "Pack Fair and Square."  Jeff has been dealing (with class and panache) with losing his sight. White guided Jeff to the stage, Levine slung an axe around a seated Golub and what followed was nothing but pure inspiration. Deprived of sight (which comes in handy when your jamming) Golub devoured his guitar, laying down blistering licks and staying in sync with his bandmates as if they performed five sets nightly. It was more special than special. A fund has been set up to help offset Jeff’s medical expenses as the onset of his blindness was rapid and complete.

Nights to remember

Both nights were truly stellar, featuring 25+ song sets and covering duets Wolf has recorded with artists from Mick Jagger to Merle Haggard, Shelby Lynn, and Nico Case. In the course of both evenings the crowd was treated to bluegrass, country, jazz, soul, R&B and, of course generous helpings of rock n' roll.

These are the nights to be cherished as each was a souvenir. If it’s not in your collection, pick up Midnight Souvenirs, Wolf’s latest, and work backwards from there. Eight solo albums to choose from and not a runt in the litter.

About the Reviewer

Peter Wolf & The Midnight Travelers - NY City Winery - February 24, 2013

Set List

"Growing Pains
"Long Way Back"
"Always Asking For You"    
"I Don’t Wanna Know"
"The Green Fields of Summer"
"Blue Avenue"
"It’s Too Late For Me"
"Lyin' Low"
"Cry One More Time"
"St. Thomas" (MARTY Ballou solo with accompaniment from Tom Avery)
"Riverside Drive"
"Love Stinks" (Appalachian Style)
"Fun For A While" (unrecorded cut)
"Can’t Get Started" (Arno Hecht Guest appearance)
"Give It To Me"
"Waiting On The Moon" (Kenny White Guest appearance on keys as Wolf roamed the house)
"Nothing But The Wheel"
"Start All Over"
"Musta Got Lost"

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