Artists need to reinvent themselves every so often for fear of becoming stagnant and, even worse, yesterday’s news. Last year, Todd Rundgren went on tour with an EDM DJ and two dancing girls in an attempt to become a little more modern. You have to give him props for trying, but most concertgoers wanted to hear Rundgren’s classic sound and the songs that accompanied them through their adolescence.
A gyrating ’70s pop star book-ended by women in big afro wigs and Elton John specs didn’t quite have the effect Mr. Rundgren thought it might, but it was an honest attempt to change up both his look and sound for the second decade of the new century.
So when Geils frontman Peter Wolf took the stage at the Music Box Supper Club Tuesday night and sang a bluegrass version of “Love Stinks,” you kind of had to hold your breath to see how the audience would react. Judging by the crowd’s roar I’d say that this twangy cover was a resounding success.
On tour to support his new Concord release A Cure For Loneliness, Wolf added several cuts from that new album to the show’s set list. Mashing up the blues/new wave sound for which J. Geils was famous with the bluegrass/Americana sound on this new album, Wolf has succeeded where other artists, perhaps, haven’t.
Peter Wolf is a classic frontman from a time when a band would live or die by the swagger and hip/cool of the guy behind the mic. Along with Steven Tyler and a handful of other aging rockers, Wolf can do this in his sleep and still make it look effortless. However, that’s not saying that he ever phones in a performance; he thanked the sold-out crowd for their forty-plus years of loyalty and patronage.
The Music Box is one of those rarities in Northeast Ohio: it’s large enough to draw big names but small enough to make the show feel like an intimate performance. Several times throughout the evening Wolf high-fived front-rowers and stopped to talk to fans who made their way to the stage. Peppered with anecdotes from his Bronx youth, Wolf held the audience captive for the better part of two hours; his stories illuminated his early life, especially the ditty about the nudie movie that he and his buddies tried to sneak into when they were eleven years old. Sitting in the first row, it almost felt like a college jam band revving it up with their friends in a local middle school gym.
The nineteen-song set list was capped by a three song encore. He closed with “Must Of Got Lost,” a Geils staple and one of four tunes from the band of which he’s most defined. Besides “Love Stinks,” the other real highlight of the evening was a quiet version of his collaboration with Merle Haggard, the haunting “It’s Too Late For Me.” Sung by a seated Wolf, its staccato, quiet power was in complete contrast to the high energy antics that preceded it.
Still gifted by a strong voice, it’s safe to say that if the whole Boston-styled Blues thing becomes passe, Peter Wolf has a promising career as a bluegrass and country crooner.
I cover about a hundred shows each year. We’re into early June and I gotta say that, so far this year, this has been one of the best shows I’ve seen. The energy and showmanship that Wolf and company showcased on the Music Box’s intimate stage left me and the folks around me exiting the theater with a huge smile on our faces and an anxiety waiting to get home to give the new album a spin.