Monday, May 23, 2016

Peter Wolf + Ike Reilly Deliver an Evening Worth Talking About -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Peter Wolf and the Midnight Travelers
w/ opening act Ike Reilly
Park West, Chicago
May 21, 2016

(No Photography allowed in the show, so pix below aren't by me.)

I've always been a fan of loquacious lead singers.

Beyond typical stage patter like "Hello Chicago" (or wherever), "Thank you" and/or the occasional "This one's from our new album," I enjoy it--and usually find concerts more emotionally enriching--when the frontman/woman, or solo artist, shares a bit more with the audience.

I'm not looking for pace-killing filibustering--and have at times wished for a bit less talking--but generally relish when favorites like Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, Shirley Manson and others share insightful song introductions, recollections of past visits to the city, brief commentary on current events, humorous anecdotes and the like.

Although I attended Saturday's concert at the Park West primarily to hear them sing--and found their music quite enjoyable--the evening with Peter Wolf (and his backing band The Midnight Travelers) and opening act Ike Reilly was all the more pleasurable for showcasing two world-class stage talkers.

After a cheeky Italian-accented introduction by his pal David Pasquesi--a first-rate improviser with TJ & Dave and also a terrific theater actor--Reilly delivered a nice 35-minute set focusing heavily on new songs.

But as he rather knowingly remarked as an opening act--though I was clearly far from the only fan of his in attendance--"They're all new to you."

Playing solo acoustic--he rocks more forcefully with The Ike Reilly Assassination, but comes across well on his own--Ike demonstrated his songwriting prowess from the get-go with a song seemingly called "It's Too Late Now." (I may have some of the titles wrong.)

Then the stories started, with Reilly relaying how he had lived in Rome in the early '90s with Pasquesi, Joel Murray (brother of Bill) and Chris Farley. Back in Chicago, the other three became members of Second City while Ike developed his musical chops and worked as a doorman at the Park Hyatt hotel...for 12 years.

This led into the terrific "A Job Like That" off Ike Reilly's 2015 album, Born on Fire.

Mentioning his friend and fellow Libertyville native Tom Morello--who I think owns the record label Ike is on--Reilly revealed that he (himself, not Morello) is working on a new album with master harmonica player Jason Ricci, shared some details of a bad gig he had played just that morning and told of exploring abandoned missile sites in Vernon Hills in his youth, leading into a new song called "Meet Me at the Missile Site."

Now 70 years old, the headliner Peter Wolf is best known for being the lead singer of the J. Geils Band from 1967-1983, when the Boston group became a pretty popular live and AOR act before breaking up soon after achieving their biggest success with "Centerfold" off 1981's Freeze Frame album. (They have occasionally reunited and I saw them open for Bob Seger in 2014.)

Photo from Peter Wolf's recent show in Ann Arbor.
Photo Credit: Ken Settle / Oakland Press
Freakishly thin and looking a good bit like Howard Stern, Wolf's biography includes a short early DJ stint, briefly studying art at the University of Chicago, adopting the nickname "the Wolfa Goofa," being roommates in Boston with future director David Lynch and marrying & divorcing actress Faye Dunaway in the 1970s.

Little of which he mentioned onstage at the Park West, while still having a lot to say, verbally and musically.

Peter Wolf's new album, A Cure for Loneliness--following 2010's excellent Midnight Souvenirs--generally features slower songs with traces of country, soul and other intermingled genres, rather than the blues-tinged rock of J. Geils' heyday.

With a veteran band that looked liked the essence of "No Bullshit," Wolf ran through a nice smattering of mostly mid-tempo songs ("Wastin' Time," "Growin' Pain," "Some Other Time, Some Other Place," "Rolling On," "Fun For Awhile" and others) that went over well in the comfortable environs of the Park West. (See a recent Peter Wolf setlist here that includes all the songs played in Chicago, albeit with a few minor sequencing changes)

Wolf spoke of recording with Mick Jagger on "Nothing But the Wheel," collaborating with songwriter Will Jennings in a story that included a turkey exploding in a microwave, introduced "Cry On More Time" as one of the first songs he wrote with the J. Geils Band, paid tribute to late Chicago legend Curtis Mayfield leading into the Impressions-type groove of "Peace of Mind"--though I heard more of The Temptations in it--and effused about his early passion for listening to the radio and coming to love Sam Cooke, the Everly Brothers and other cornerstone artists.

Clearly a man who relishes music far beyond his own making, Wolf gave a brief bio of singer/songwriter Don Covay before a cover of "The Usual Place," talked about bluegrass icon Bill Monroe in teeing up a version of "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again" that segued into a similarly-styled rendition of J. Geils Band's "Love Stinks," and paid homage to Merle Haggard with a song they had recorded together, "It's Too Late For Me."

Late in the show came a barrage of choice rockers from the J. Geils canon--"Homework," "Give It To Me," "Looking for a Love" and the show-closing "Must of Got Lost"--as well as the terrific "I Don't Wanna Know" from Midnight Souvenirs.

With two of my best friends alongside in a pleasant, seated venue I enjoy but haven't much attended, it all made for a highly enjoyable night of music.

And storytelling.

Although I greatly admired Wolf's tributes, recollections, ramblings and performance--including very much his stylistic breadth--my @@@@ rating categorizes the show as excellent but something shy of mind-blowing.

Not knowing his reasons for avoiding it, I felt a romp through "Centerfold"--or "Freeze Frame"--might have heightened the fun factor amid some of the mellower songs, especially as "Love Stinks" was delivered differently than the rambunctious original, although intriguingly so.

But it was abundantly and delectably clear that Wolf loves to entertain, in multiple connotations of the word.

And to educate, largely about the power of rock 'n roll. Which, along with the perception that he is of a dying breed, makes me recommend seeing him for reasons that go well beyond the fine music he continues to make.

On a Saturday night in Chicago, with a crack band whose members' names I couldn't quite catch and can't readily find, Peter Wolf--along with Ike Reilly--delivered a good old fashioned rock concert that truly talked the talk.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Love "loquacious lead" line. Great alliteration.