The J. Geils Band & Ian Hunter Unforgettable at The Paramount Huntington, NY 8-30-15

It has been quite a busy five years for Classic Rocker The J. Geils Band since reuniting back on New Year’s Eve of 2009. Arousing a lot of excitement, sold out shows were all over the schedule in the years to follow, and in 2012, they began what they called the Houseparty Tour. After touring in late 2014 into 2015 as direct support for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet band, for select shows on his Ride Out tour, The J. Geils Band returned thereafter with their Houseparty Tour that kicked off August 23rd. Scheduled to run through September 13th, the tour not only includes The J. Geils Band, but also the one and only Ian Hunter. The oft-traveling, always partying, hard-driving J. Geils Band matched with Glam Rock legend Ian Hunter & The Rant Band is a billing that many did not want to miss as two more disparate styles would be hard to imagine. Hunter is revered in Classic Rock circles, a cohort of such renowned acts as T. Rex and David Bowie, and a progenitor to global superstars Def Leppard. While on the other hand, The J. Geils Band were one of the top selling and touring acts of the ’70s and ’80s, delivering raucous sets heavy on Blues, Soul, and Funk, as they cracked the top forty on numerous occasions. On Sunday, August 30th, Huntington, New York’s The Paramount was the hosting platform and the two pillars in the pantheon of Rock-n-Roll pulled out all the stops.

Ian Hunter first gained notoriety as the front man for Glam Rock pioneers Mott The Hoople. Coming out of England in 1969, the band played gritty Rock ‘n’ Roll sprinkled with some Folk in their early years, and they would eventually become forerunners of the 1970’s Glam Rock style. Nineteen-seventy-four’s The Hoople would be Hunter’s last effort with his bandmates. After that, they would press on as Mott, without Hunter. In 1975, Hunter would release his first solo album. The self-titled release spawned the UK hit “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” which would become a top five hit for Great White fourteen years later.

Wasting no time, Hunter opened the set with the aforementioned “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” A fortified rocker that was a hit forty years ago and twenty-five years ago had the variously-aged crowd singing along from start to finish. Backed by The Rant Band which featured Steve Holley (drums), James Mastro (guitars, vocals), Mark Bosch (guitars, vocals), Paul Page (bass), and Dennis DiBrizzi (keyboards), “Just the Way You Look Tonight” from Ian Hunter & The Rant Band’s 2012 release When I’m President was a study in Roots-Rock perfection. A down home lead on acoustic guitar, dotted with jangly guitars, and interludes on harmonica made for a sound that managed to echo Appalachia and 1960’s Dublin all at the same time.

“Now is the Time” from Hunter’s 1996 solo album, The Artful Dodger, was a well-executed mid-tempo, Pop-laden number. A strong lead on organ from DiBrizzi and a simple beat from Holley laid the foundation as airy guitars punctuated the rhythm throughout, and DiBrizzi laid down some swirling punches on organ, all while Hunter’s raspy voice delivered an engaging tale. “Just Another Night” from You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic, Hunter’s 1979 solo album had all the earmarks of classic Mott The Hoople with its fuzzed out lead on guitar, Honky-Tonk piano, and signature phrasing of the lyrics that manage to blend a sense of cockiness with a feeling of coyness.

Going back to When I’m President, “Black Tears” showed Hunter’s deep array of influences as he and The Rant Band put forth a Blues ballad of the highest order. A dreamy lead on piano set the table for an emotive vocal from Hunter. The song continually spiraled upwards into heavier, more intense territory before screeching guitars closed out the track. The song gave off the sound of dark, smoky rooms in back alley speakeasies, rife with jilted lovers. Set closer “All The Way From Memphis” would be the first Mott The Hoople song of the night. An absolute barn-burner with a steadily-rising intro on piano, the song encapsulated the Memphis sound with its mix of Honky-Tonk, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and, mostly, Rockabilly. The infectious chorus was belted out by the crowd in unison.

Hunter reached back to the classics to close the show. First, a cover as the band tore through the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane,” and ended the night with Mott The Hoople’s most well-known songs, “All The Young Dudes,” both of which come from the album of the same name. Co-produced by David Bowie, this would be the band’s biggest album and the aforementioned single would catapult them into international stardom. Two albums, Mott and The Hoople would follow. After The Hoople, the band carried on as Mott, less Ian Hunter. On this night, Hunter and The Rant Band’s take on “Sweet Jane” was a faithful one. Crunching riffs and a sense of despair and rebellion filled the room as they ripped through the proto-Punk anthem. Show closer “All The Young Dudes,” which, for better or worse, has become Hunter’s “Free Bird,” went off flawlessly. The opening, sturdy riff, reminiscent of another Bowie-penned tune from the same year (1972), “Ziggy Stardust,” brought a roar from the crowd. A staple of Classic Rock radio, the crowd sang and swayed along from start to finish.

Next up was the headliners formed in 1967 in Massachusetts, The J. Geils Band. Releasing their self-titled debut in 1970, The J. Geils Band were bred on Motown, Soul, and the Blues. Featuring four of the original six members, the current lineup consists of Peter Wolf (vocals), multi-instrumentalist Magic Dick, Danny Klein (bass), and Seth Justman (keys), and they are accompanied by touring musicians Duke Levine (guitar), Kevin Barry (guitar), Tom Arey (drums, percussion), and Andricka Hall along with Nichelle Tillman on backing vocals. The band’s career really took off after the release of “Live” Full House in 1972, an incendiary concert album, and on this night the band showed they have not lost a step in forty plus years.

Albert Collins’ “Sno-Cone,” which the band recorded on their debut, started their set. A slow burn on harmonica and guitar erupted into a sonic assault on the organ as the bluesy number was a relentless instrumental, setting the stage for an evening of full-throttle barroom stomping. “Hard Drivin’ Man,” an explosive soul number was next, and again the harmonica led the way out front over a propulsive riff on piano. An extended breakdown in the middle allowed Justman to get a workout on the ivories before turning it over to a punchy guitar solo.

“Southside Shuffle” kept the Soul vibe going with an upbeat lead on piano and classic harmonies from Tillman and Hall. A take on Blues legend Otis Rush’s “Homework” brought the pace down just a notch, if only for the first minute or so as the medium-paced Blues number would eventually explode into a harmonica/guitar duel. “Wait,” the first track from the band’s debut was a Country-inflected Honky-Tonk number with jangly guitars, a bouncy melody on piano, and timely interjections on harmonica.

“Cruisin’ For a Love,” another track from their debut, screamed early American Blues with a Classic Blues rhythm, shuffling drums, and loads of harmonica. The sound was straight out of a roadside shack in the Delta in 1959. Nineteen-eighties “Just Can’t Wait” showed that besides crafting and expertly covering Soul and Blues, the J. Geils Band can write a Pop-Rock number with the best of them. Leaning on a New-Wave based sound on keys and catchy hooks on guitar, the song encapsulated early 80’s FM radio. “Pack Fair and Square” was a retreat to the sweet sounds of 60’s Soul.

Taking a much needed break in the middle of the set, “Teresa” was a piano only ballad, once again showing the band’s diversity as Wolf belted out heartfelt lyrics over ever escalating piano. The respite was short-lived as “Give It to Me,” one of the band’s biggest hits, was next. Expanding their boundaries yet again, the song was basically a straight up Reggae number. A percussive lead on harmonica, echoed by a similar sound on piano, would eventually lead to an extended outro featuring snarling guitars and loopy bass.

Two of the band’s biggest hits from the early ’80s brought the already excited crowd over the top as the band went back to their number one album from 1981, Freeze Frame. Helped by the budding MTV, the album went to number one in the U.S. on the strength of the title track and the number one smash hit “Centerfold.” “Freeze Frame” and its unrelenting melody, sweet as sugar chorus, and danceable breaks on keys drove the crowd into a frenzy. “Centerfold” had the crowd drowning Wolf out from start to finish. A staple on MTV when it was released, the song has all the earmarks of a Top 40 single, and the band delivered. A beyond catchy lead on keys with staccato guitars and swirling organs, all laid the groundwork for a song about that timeless topic; girls. To top it off, the song ended with, and had in the middle a “Na na na na na na” sing-along section.

“Love Stinks,” another Top 40 hit for the band, again showed the band’s ability to craft an impeccable Pop number. A sturdy lead on guitar, an undeniable chorus, and oodles of backing vocals, made for a number that screamed fun. Set closer “Ain’t Nothin’ But a House Party” was the perfect summation of their set. A Showstoppers cover, it has been a staple of the band’s repertoire since their inception. Released in 1967, the same year the band formed, it is easy to see that this had a huge influence on the J. Geils Band. The Showstoppers version sounded like most of the Soul music from the era. The J. Geils Band turned it on its ear. Using electric guitar for the melody, and adding searing organ, they took it to manic heights. Nearly tripling the running time of the original, a manic harmonica solo occupied the middle third, followed by a drum solo, and eventually falling into a full rave up.

“Where Did Our Love Go,” a cover of The Supremes’ hit, started the three song encore. While the original relied on a basic drum beat to lead the way, the band laid down the same beat, but peppered it with loads of harmonica, and while the original moves along at a hurried pace, here it was taken down a notch and converted from a Pop gem to a dirty Blues number. “Start All Over Again” found the band reaching back into the Garage Rock sound of the mid-sixties. A mellow lead on guitar and aggressive vocals were all that was to be heard. Show closer “Must of Got Lost” left the crowd screaming for more. Another deft Rock ‘n’ Roll number, the song featured bellowing organs and another refrain that the crowd could not help sing along to.

The J. Geils Band and Ian Hunter have been in the game a long time, and are road-tested veterans. Despite pushing and surpassing seventy years of age, they both put on a dazzling performance. Hunter, by playing Mott The Hoople songs only sparingly, proved his post-Hoople career has generated vast amounts of high quality music and he can still command the stage. The J. Geils band, who started a wild, rowdy, barroom band almost fifty years ago showed they can still provide not only the soundtrack, but also the energy for a ferocious party.

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1 Comment

  • I seen Sir Ian Hunter@ the Art Park outside Buffalo ny a complete artist for a decade or two he has amassed works for over 5 decades and maybe 6 the Cat don’t play he rides them for a minute and moves on one of the greatest performers today he can rock ya all night long then drive 500 miles down the road with the band… Amazong guy genius status songwriter on and on that’s how Ian has rolled since the 50’s he is the real deal!! ( a Warrior)

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