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The J. Geils Band at their greasy, down-and-dirty best right before they became squeaky clean (well mostly, anyway) MTV pop stars.

Music DVD Review: The J. Geils Band – ‘House Party: Live In Germany’ [CD/DVD]

J.GeilsBandLong before their brief, early 1980s run as MTV video-star darlings boasting a short string of hits including “Love Stinks,” “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold,” Boston’s J. Geils Band built a reputation as one of rock’s premier live bands by routinely opening shows for everyone from Aerosmith to the Rolling Stones.

They also made a habit, more often than not, of regularly upstaging the headliners. Actually, that may be putting too polite a spin on it. What they really became best known for was blowing those other bands off the stage. As polished as Peter Wolf, Magic Dick, J. Geils and company may have looked and sounded on those MTV video clips, what got them to the dance in the first place was something far different. They were quite simply, an amazing live band.

Coming up in the 1970s arena-rock era of lasers, flashpots and fog machines, the J. Geils Band defied the odds with a show that combined the frenetic pacing of an old school R&B revue cut straight outta’ James Brown territory, with the tight chops and snarly attitude of a bar band that cut its musical teeth playing four sets a night for nothing more than free beer.

If the latter-day, pop-star incarnation of the J. Geils Band came off as just a bit too slick for some, back in the day they was just downright greasy. Of the two officially released concert recordings from this era, the single-disc Full House is a genuine classic, and the double-live Blow Your Face Out isn’t too far behind.

Both of these amazing live albums effectively bottle the lightning – right down to frontman Peter Wolf’s jive-talking speed raps between the songs. But the single most pivotal of the many combustible elements making up J. Geils Band’s electrifying live shows from this era – the visual one – has gone undocumented. Until now.

As a stand-alone document of the period, House Party: Live In Germany isn’t going to replace Full House as the definitive live J. Geils Band album. Not by a long shot. But it does capture a great show, and it provides the first official visual evidence on DVD and Blu-ray of just what made these guys so great in concert. To put things in perspective, it should also be noted that on this night, the J. Geils Band were performing on a bill sandwiched in-between Patti Smith and Johnny Winter.

What stands out most watching this though, is the elastic charisma of spider-legged frontman Peter Wolf, and the chemistry between him and the extraordinary Magic Dick. Visually speaking, Magic Dick serves primarily as Wolf’s other half with the wild Afro – an onstage foil not unlike the role Clarence Clemons used to play against Bruce Springsteen in the E Street Band.

jgeilshouseparty2Originally taped for Germany’s long-running TV concert showcase program Rockpalast, this 1979 concert captures the J. Geils Band in a transition period. Touring behind their current at the time album Sanctuary, the first half of the show leans heavily on material from that album, with several songs hinting at the more pop-rock direction that was just around the corner.

But it is only during the second half when things really start to catch fire, on crowdpleasers like “Lookin’ For A Love,” “Whammer Jammer” (the longtime set-staple showcasing Magic Dick’s considerable skills on the “licking stick”), and what may be the most over-the-top version of their early classic “House Party” ever. By the time of the encores, which include a cover of the Supremes “Where Did Our Love Go?” and concert favorite “First I Look At The Purse,” the show becomes the sort of house party that if I were Winter or Smith, I’d be fearful of following.

Thankfully, with House Party: Live In Germany, we finally have the visual evidence proving just how greasy, down and dirty they once were, right before they briefly became squeaky-clean (well, mostly anyway), MTV pop-stars. Fronting this vagabond assortment of rogues, Peter Wolf and the J. Geils Band have never looked or sounded better.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.

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