Friday, October 8, 2010

Peter Wolf concert review: Orange County, CA

 A version of my review appeared in the Orange County Register and can be viewed at the link below. Photo is the album cover of "Midnight Souvenirs" (Verve/UME) painted by Peter Wolf.

Peter Wolf, Honeyhoney
Where: Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
When: Oct. 7

Talk about cool introductions. After the Coach House lights dimmed, an instrumental recording of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” was cued up. The band took the stage and did a brief jazz version of the Irving Berlin tune.

Then Peter Wolf slowly emerged in trademark all black attire and porkpie hat - holding down that always wild mane of hair - to start the haunting, mandolin-accented “Growin’ Pain” (from 2002’s “Sleepless”).

As singer of the J. Geils Band in the 1970s and early ‘80s, Wolf and company set the bar for marathon, “no frills” rock ‘n’ roll gigs. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were probably their closest rivals in that department. Tom Petty has admitted to learning stage presence technique by watching the exhilarating Wolf, who got showmanship tips from attending weekly R&B concerts during his high school years at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Since exiting the J. Geils Band (which reunited sporadically over the past decade, including an opening stint this past August for Aerosmith at Boston’s Fenway Park - prominently covered in Rolling Stone magazine), Wolf has released seven solo albums. The acclaimed “Sleepless,” featuring Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, was named one of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” by the aforementioned publication.

Long-awaited follow up “Midnight Souvenirs” is another fine rootsy, reflective excursion into blues, R&B,  country and rock terrain. Wolf recruited Shelby Lynne, Neko Case and Merle Haggard for some memorable duets on what is a surely a year-end top 10 album contender. 

More than four decades into his career, Wolf remains a consummate entertainer in the old school tradition and is still soulful as ever. Thursday night in San Juan Capistrano was the vocalist’s first Orange County appearance in several years and return to a venue last played in the mid-‘90s.

In a moderately attended, two-hour show, he sang, danced up a storm, told comical stories (about the good old days hanging around blues legends; meeting Lynne), engaged in easygoing conversations with fans, walked through the middle of the venue mid-song and constantly joked around with his backing quintet, the Midnight Travelers.

They were all extremely tight and each provided fine support – especially longtime collaborator Duke Levine on lead guitar and standup bassist/robust backing vocalist Marty Ballou.

Several of Wolf’s friends from the old Beantown and the Bronx stomping grounds comprised the boisterous crowd. At one point, in a round of tour closing thank you's to the tour crew, Wolf gave a shout out to some Lynn, Mass. compadres.

A good chunk of the new album was performed in the stellar O.C. set, which blended seamlessly with selections from his other sadly neglected releases “Long Line” and “Fool’s Parade.” I would have liked to heard something from his first three more commercially successful solo efforts (which yielded the hits “Lights Out,” “Need You Tonight,” “Come as You Are”), but the evening was so enjoyable, it was a minor omission.

Of course, the half dozen energetic tunes that were staples of J. Geils shows went down a storm too: namely “Cry One More Time” (preceded by an amusing anecdote about Gram Parsons, who also recorded it), the call and response action of “Love Stinks,” stomping “Looking for a Love” and passionate “Must of Got Lost.” 
All told, it was one of best shows I’ve seen all year. Wolf is truly a class act.

The proceedings got underway with Honeyhoney, a Venice acoustic duo that did an enthralling batch of Americana-influenced songs from their Jude Cole produced, 2008 Ironworks album “First Rodeo.”

Ben Jaffe handled both acoustic guitar, kick drum and backing vocals exceptionally; lead singer Suzanne Santo easily switched from violin and banjo. Her smoky voice often recalled a countrified Norah Jones, but feistier. Highlights included “Little Toy Gun” and a wondrous take on Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “Who’s Loving You.”

Peter Wolf, The Coach House, Oct. 7, 2010
Main set: Growin’ Pain/Long Line/Long Way Back Again/Always Asking for You/I Don’t Wanna Know/Homework/Rooster Blues/It Serves You Right to Suffer/Cry One More Time/Green Fields of Summer/Wastin’ Time/Tragedy/Night Time/Riverside Drive/Love Stinks/Looking for a Love/There’s Still Time
Encores: Sleepless/Start All Over Again/Give it to Me/Waiting on the Moon/Must of Got Lost/It’s Too Late for Me/I’ve Had It


Anonymous said...

thanks for this review. I completely agree with your sentiments - Wolf is a tremendous talent and class act. among the best shows I have seen this year as well.

newwavegeo said...

Appreciate the comment. He really deserves more attention.