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Music Review

Geils delivers hard-drivin’ rock and then some

Peter Wolf (right) and Jay Geils performing at the Bank of America Pavilion. Peter Wolf (right) and Jay Geils performing at the Bank of America Pavilion. (Robert E. Klein for The Boston Globe)
By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / August 8, 2011

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The gauntlet was thrown down early Saturday night - before the J. Geils Band had even played one note, in fact. With the house lights down, and the house party about to begin, the sporadically reforming, yet perennially adored group was introduced to a sold-out crowd as “the original bad boys from Boston’’ - a seeming (and not so subtle) dig at that other ill-behaved, break-up-and-make-up band with whom Geils shared (or did not share, exactly) a Fenway Park stage last summer.

On this, the first of a two-night stand at the Bank of America Pavilion and the second date of a short reunion tour (although Geils’s frontman Peter Wolf disputed calling it that, instead describing the scenario as a much more casual affair: “We just get together when we get together’’), there were no catwalks to cause a catty kerfuffle, and no distractions from the band business at hand, which was playing hard. And then, playing some more.

Or at least until the 11 p.m. curfew, by which time the Geils crew - augmented by the Uptown Horns, back-up vocalists, and Boston roots guitar virtuoso Duke Levine - had swooped, shimmied, and sizzled through more than two dozen songs that delved deep into a catalog touched by R&B, Chicago blues, boogie-woogie, and, as Wolf summed it up, “old-time, old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll.’’

They kicked off the two-hour plus show with “Jus’ Can’t Stop Me,’’ a showcase rave-up for harmonica player Magic Dick that made you believe that no, we couldn’t stop him (and why would we want to?), and then roared into frat-house-by-way-of-roadhouse stompers like “Hard Drivin’ Man’’; “Southside Shuffle,’’ “Night Time,’’ “Detroit Breakdown,’’ and the potboiler “(It Ain’t Nothin’ but a) House Party.’’ The latter closed the main set and featured Jay Geils’s savagely satisfying guitar riff and a pirouetting Wolf pinwheeling his arms and busting as many fast-motion Motown moves as he could before the cops showed up.

There were slower detours, too, such as the encore opener, “Start All Over Again,’’ a soul ballad that found Wolf testifying on his knees, and the sweetly longing “Make up Your Mind,’’ which he dedicated to legendary R&B singer Don Covay. But in some respects, the Geils Band’s best songs - “Sanctuary,’’ “Love Stinks,’’ “Just Can’t Wait’’ - tended to be those that found the group nodding, but not overly reverential, to its source material, and Wolf easing up on his jive-talking Woofa Goofa persona. That said, the band’s biggest pop hits, the too-perky “Freeze-Frame,’’ and the catchy, encore-closing “Centerfold,’’ sounded oddly out of place: obviously necessary, but somehow perfunctory.

The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, whose band namesake is the lead singer of the Black Crowes (currently on hiatus), opened with an hourlong set of Grateful Dead-esque jams and ’70s Laurel Canyon-shaded rock that sounded relaxed at its best but meandering at its worst. None of Robinson’s jittery, Jagger-like moves made an appearance, and unfortunately, neither did any Black Crowes classics.

Jonathan Perry can be reached at roughgems@comcast.net.

THE J. GEILS BAND With the Chris Robinson Brotherhood

At: Bank of America Pavilion, Saturday