BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
During their 1970s heyday, the J. Geils Band were known as one of the world’s most formidable live acts. The sextet combined rock and roll swagger with soulful rhythm and blues in songs like “Must of Got Lost” and their version of the Contours’ “First I Look at the Purse.” In the early ’80s, the band’s muscular sound produced pop success with “Love Stinks” and “Centerfold.”
Popularity in the band’s Boston base and second home of Detroit spread to a firm following in Chicago. The band visits United Center Dec. 11.
Loose-limbed, fast-talking frontman Peter Wolf departed the band in 1983 following the success of 1981’s “Freeze Frame” album, launching a solo career that evolved along the opposite arc of J. Geils Band. Pop anthems including “Lights Out” and “Come as You Are” gradually gave way to crafty roots-based treasures like “Nothing But the Wheel” and “Growin’ Pain.” Wolf’s eighth solo album is due next summer.
Wolf eventually reconnected with his Geils bandmates and their collective legacy. Following sporadic reunion dates and shorter regional jaunts since 1999, the J. Geils Band is currently mounting its biggest tour since disbanding in 1985. “Solo music is so important for me, but this allows me to jump back to a period and a body of work that has been part of my life for so long,” says Wolf. “It’s rewarding to see people who still respond to it after so many years.”
Joining Wolf are organist and co-writer Seth Justman, bassist Danny Klein, and powerhouse harmonica player Magic Dick. The band’s catalog and knowledge of classic rhythm and blues gives them a deep well to draw from. “We try to go through the different musical varieties that we touched upon, from down and dirty Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker stuff to some of the more pop stuff like ‘Freeze Frame‘ and ‘Love Stinks,’” says Wolf.
Although J. Geils Bands’ biggest hits were self-penned, the group was known for taking savvy choices of cover songs and making them their own. Rather than selecting Motown saxophonist Junior Walker’s signature 1965 single “Shotgun,” the band dug deeper for Walker’s 1967 answer song “Shoot Your Shot.” The Geils version appears on 1976 album “Blow Your Face Out.”
Wolf doesn’t rule out fresh choices. “That’s the thing with rehearsals,” says Wolf. “We get together, and somebody starts noodling with something. Someone else might say, ‘Hey, that was a good one. Let’s work it up.’”
J. Geils Band, opening for Bob Seger, 7:30 p.m., Dec. 11, United Center, 1901 W Madison, (312) 455-4500. Tickets $45-$95; unitedcenter.com.