I Was There When: The J. Geils Band Drove the Crowd Wild at the Springfield (MA) Civic Center 4/6/1976

Imagine the utterly startling sensation of receiving a live album by a favorite band just weeks after seeing said group in concert, then finding out it is an almost track-by-track replication of what was so delightfully stirring over the course of two-hours plus at the venue in real time. Blow Your Face Out! indeed and little wonder a proposed expansion by the vaunted archivists at Rhino Records did not meet the approval of the artist.

It was satisfying enough to see Boston’s favorite bad boys, The J. Geils Band, for the third time and be wholly and completely satisfied. The gleefully clownish raps lead vocalist Peter Wolf had perfected while a Boston disc jockey were as fascinating to follow in their own way as the grinding grooves of this rhythm section of drummer Stephen Jo Bladd and bassist Danny Klein. And that’s not to mention the alternately wailing and seductive sounds of Magic Dick on harp or the unusually sustained guitar spotlights the namesake of the band maximized on the moody likes of “Chimes.”

The atmospheric nature of the sextet’s extended take on that product of the Geils songwriting team of Wolf and keyboardist Seth Justman was just one original intermixed with the likes of blues icon Albert Collins’ “Sno-Cone” and “Raise Your Hand,” the collaboration of Booker T & The MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd; despite the latter’s somewhat unsung status as an R&B hit, its roundly high-spirited inclusion nevertheless confirmed how securely Geils grasped the roots of its music as it matured as a unit on stage and in the studio.

The high-powered set J. Geils offered opening for YES at UVM’s Patrick Gym 02/24/72 only suggested the dynamism that filled this otherwise antiseptic hockey rink as the frontman Wolf and company whipped the crowd into an absolute frenzy, repeatedly teased then pleased to the max: the truncated debacle of a show @ SPAC in July of the previous year could not compare to this near-sold out one in the least as a no-show by opening act Muddy Waters led to Beantowners’ dispirited performance and an early exit that in turn gave way to an audience uprising unlike the usual sublime, open-air Saratoga Springs, New York experience.

By the time of the release of their second live album, J. Geils had released a string of studio records that documented their growing skill as recording artists, not the least of which was the aforementioned ability to remain loyal to their influences while building on them incrementally. But it was getting more than a little frustrating for those efforts (and the previous concert piece 1972’s Full House) to fall on deaf ears in the mainstream, even as the band toiled relentlessly on tour. Eventually, an edited version of “Give It To Me,” from 1973’s Bloodshot helped launch that album into the ‘Top Ten’ of Billboard Magazine charts and elevate the group to headlining status over the likes of soon-to-be-superstar himself, Peter Frampton (this a lesser breakthrough in itself than that of “Centerfold” five years later).

Braving the tightly-packed crowd, catching this Geils concert at the lip of stage no doubt markedly altered perceptions of the action, offering a heightened dramatic perspective of the band on stage. Wolf laughed at himself almost as often as with the crowd, while his straight man Justman occasionally fed him lines: it was as if the lead singer was as alternately surprised and delighted to came up with stuff like the intro to “Must Of Got Lost.” Meanwhile, it was almost equally arresting to watch Klein remain largely stock still at the corner of the drum riser as Dick bent and swayed in coaxing notes from his harp. For his part, Geils concentrated on his solos to the exclusion of much body English, an implicit object lesson in the fundamental approach of this group: music comes first, then theatrics (and then only those, like their borderline tasteless wardrobe choices, which proceed naturally from the music).

So, if the single set during the spring of 1976 proved anything(s), it was two: how gratifying it can be to stay loyal to a deserving artist till success arrives and just how rewarding it can be for that artist to justify the acclaim. The J. Geils Band may have never played a better show than they did this night in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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