Saturday, February 7, 2015

Peter Wolf & the Midnight Ramblers at City Winery

Peter Wolf
Peter W. Blankfield grew up in the mid-1950s in the Bronx, New York, to the sounds of his grandmother's Yiddish theater, his father's classical chamber music, his mother's jazz, his sister's early rock and roll and his neighborhood's doo-wop music. As a youth, he frequented the Apollo Theater to see rhythm and blues singers and shopped for blues records on Times Square. As a young adult, he desired to study art and relocated to Boston, Massachusetts. There, a gig as a fast-talking late-night disc jockey playing obscure blues and soul music on a local radio station led to him fronting a band called the Hallucinations, which backed many touring blues and rock and roll pioneers who came through Boston. That band split and the renamed Peter Wolf joined the J. Geils Band. Wolf led the J. Geils Band from obscurity in the late 1960s to hit machine in the 1980s. Success was finally at hand, but Wolf wanted to pursue the blues and the band went for the golden promise of pop. After 17 years without a personnel change, Wolf and the J. Geils Band parted ways. Since then, Wolf has led the J. Geils Band on several reunion tours, but over the past 30 years also has released seven solo albums, the most recent being 2010's Midnight Souvenirs.

This fall and winter, the J. Geils Band opened an arena concert tour for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, ending January 31. Not one to rest, Peter Wolf & the Midnight Travelers headlined three nights at City Winery a week later. This engagement was to be a sudden and radical change for Wolf. Backed by a stand-up bassist, an acoustic guitarist and a multi-instrumentalist, the first curiosity of the evening was that Wolf resigned himself to a largely acoustic two-hour set. The second curiosity was that signs throughout the venue indicated that all photography was prohibited. (The photograph above is from Wolf's performance with the J. Geils Band at Madison Square Garden in December 2014.) The third curiosity was that the man who is known for non-stop pacing on a big stage was restricted to the confines of City Winery's small stage. Nevertheless, he made good use of a few square feet of space to dance and drop to his knees as he poured out his passion for his catalogue of songs. The set was comprised of obscure blues, soul and country songs, as well as songs from his solo albums and six songs from the J. Geils Band. These latter songs were given an unusual twist through soft instrumentation; surprisingly, "Love Stinks" was transformed into a bluegrass song. Overall, Wolf's vocals were modest at best, but he delivered an outstanding performance as a revivalist of classic American music.

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