J. Geils Band and Ian Hunter Double Bill at Hard Rock Lives up to Expectations

Concert Review

click to enlarge J. Geils Band and Ian Hunter Double Bill at Hard Rock Lives up to Expectations
Scott Sandberg
Cleveland has a long history with Wolf and the J. Geils Band. If you’ve been a music fan in this city for any length of time, it’s easy to believe that the band’s Full House and Blow Your Face Out Live albums might have been a required purchase in order to stay here. One of my favorite Geils-related memories comes from a period where I was working at a record store in the early ‘90s and the owner’s best friend refused to buy a CD player until they put Blow Your Face Out on CD. Luckily for him, Rhino Records answered that call and put it out about a year later.
I’m not sure if that guy made it out to the Geils show at Northfield, but there was no shortage of people who did — in fact, with the perfect Cleveland doubleheader bill of Geils and Ian Hunter as the night’s lineup, it’s not hard to imagine that the Boston-bred group could have easily done two nights at Hard Rock Live. The show sold out quickly and everybody who bought a ticket was present and accounted for — and there wasn’t a single person who walked away from the experience with an ounce of disappointment. You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here

This was the band’s first headlining show in the area since 1999 — it had been a long time and although they were here this past December to lay down a power hour’s worth of material (in true Geils style, in only 50 minutes) opening for Bob Seger at the Q, the extended set and the considerably more intimate setting did a lot to add extra fuel to the experience.

Wolf and the band might have updated some of their banter for 2015 but when it came to the music, it remained nostalgically planted in the ‘70s and ‘80s and for nearly two hours, the group cooked up their expert blend of rock, rhythm and blues and funk, digging into things with the instrumental showcase “Sno-Cone,” which gave each member a good sized chunk of the action right out of the gate, straight into the classic “Hard Drivin’ Man.” As my concert comrade remarked, if they would have ended the night right there, it would have been all good. But they still had a hefty amount of material to get through and they covered all of the bases. Setting up their version of Juke Joint Jimmy’s “Cruisin’ For A Love,” Wolf recalled the important support that Bill Graham had given the band early on, but also, Cleveland’s Jules Belkin, remembering that Belkin had put them on a bill opening for Mountain, where the crowd for some reason, threw jellybeans at the band. “Don’t throw jellybeans at us tonight,” he joked.

There were plenty of deep cuts in the setlist for the diehards — it was especially nice hearing a pair of cuts from 1978’s Sanctuary, including the title cut. “Wait” took things back 45 years to the band’s self-titled 1970 debut, “Back to the Agora days,” Wolf noted, the first song that he and keyboardist Seth Justman ever wrote together. He and Justman anchor the current Geils lineup which still features bassist Danny Klein and the magical harp skills of Magic Dick and the lineup is rounded out with a trio of aces —Tom Arey on the drums, Duke Levine on guitar and Kevin Barry adding additional guitars. While it’s a bit weird to have a J. Geils Band without J. Geils on guitar, Levine is a solid replacement and carried the legacy forward well, tossing out the well-known chicken-like riffs during “Hard Drivin’ Man” that Wolf humorously termed as “free range chicken pickin’.” Arey’s work behind the kit provided a solid backbeat that helped to power the groove that remained constant throughout the band’s set. During “Give It To Me,” only needed to look at the guy playing air guitar or across the way, the guy who was duck walking down the aisle to know that the Geils crew — accessorized with the Geil-ette backing vocalists, were hitting their mark and it was a night that was well worth the wait.

From the moment he stepped on stage with wine glass in hand and trademark shades in place, Ian Hunter was armed and ready with the perfect opening set, that began with “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” and rolled forward for 45 minutes on the nose, wrapping up with a stadium rock worthy version of “All The Young Dudes” from his Mott The Hoople days. An Ian Hunter show in Cleveland meant that “Cleveland Rocks” was of course, in the setlist. Hunter normally plays the Beachland when he’s in town and fortunately, he’s been a fairly regular presence there in recent years. He brought that same club vibe to a bigger room and the audience was ready and willing to sing every chorus that came along, Backed by his longtime Rant band, Hunter found room in the set for the title track from his 2012 release When I’m President, one of two cuts he played from the album. It was a moment which proved that at 76 years of age, he’s still got his creative mojo working. 
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