“I must have got lost… I must have got lost…”
If you had told me when I started this blog three years ago that I was going to be writing about Peter Wolf of the J Geils Band, actually writing about him in a semi-serious fashion and not comically or sarcastically, I would have said you were crazy.
But there I was, Saturday night in Santa Barbara with my good friend and concert pal Kristin, bouncing on my toes, holding my iPhone in my hand (clichéd I know!), watching Wolf and his band work through the last songs of their show. And, you know what? I enjoyed it.
For several reasons:
1. We arrived late, after several strong drinks at the hotel down the street and well after anyone was checking tickets, so we skipped the $25 cover charge. Always nice.
2. We missed “Centerfold” and “Love Stinks” – whew. Though I wouldn’t have minded hearing “Freeze Frame” with its upright ‘80s bounce, hand claps and synth-bop.
3. I’m pretty sure we were the youngest people there. Not counting the second wives and girlfriends of the 60-something, casually wealthy guys. A certain California-specific species that probably made their money in Cupertino or with a shed load of B movies marketed to non-native English speakers. These guys like water sports, the occasional toke and Tommy Bahama shirts. You know, the gospel according to Jimmy Buffet.
But I digress.
In a live setting, decades after his ‘80s hits, Wolf’s blues roots could take center stage. Most people – myself included – associate him with “Centrefold” and that silly schoolroom video. But he’s recorded and performed with The Stones, The Boss and The Queen of Soul to name a few. The J Geils Band is long behind him – on his last solo album, he recorded with country legend Merle Haggard and two of my favorite alt-country voices: Neko Case and Shelby Lynne.
His band – with their ponytails and grey-brown beards – was about the same age as the audience, and you could tell they were there for the music, not for some Rhino-retro paycheck. The venue was small, after all, so how much could they really earn on the night? This was a well-rehearsed barroom band, channeling the classic sounds of The Meters and The Rascals and just enjoying good old rock-n-roll. People wandered in and out, some sat outside on the patio while the waitresses went back and forth with cold drinks. Wolf told stories between songs, in this scattershot reminder of his early career as a disc jockey. It was relaxed. It was refreshing. It was something I don’t get to experience much in Hong Kong.
The best part was being able to hang out with Kristin. Trying to squash over a decade’s worth of conversation in to a visit of just a couple of days. Talking, talking, talking. Laughing over a shot of Goldschlager. Taking pictures of her pugs. We did our best.
And now I’m looking at Peter Wolf in a different light. I listened to his duet with Neko Case and it is really, really lovely. And I wonder how it feels to be most famous for your worst song? That while millions buy a couple of your hits on iTunes, only a few hundred in a bar in Santa Barbara can hear what you’re really like.
It was good to be there.