Graded on a Curve:
J. Geils Band,
“Live” Full House

A few words on the evolution of this review: I originally intended to write about 1977’s Foghat Live because I consider it the best live album this side of Jerry Lee Lewis’ 1964 Live at the Star Club, Hamburg, which I love even more than Roxy Music’s 1976 Viva! Roxy Music, which is guaranteed to make your ears clasp their tiny little hands and say, “Glam bam thank you ma’am!”

But then my friend Hank Dittmar who has forgotten more about music than I’ll ever know recommended this 1972 live album by the J. Geils Band, whom I saw at Shippensburg College in the late seventies but can’t really remember seeing at Shippensburg College in the late seventies because I was totally blotto on a combination of Wild Turkey and Placidyl, the latter of which I can only describe as an industrial strength memory dissolvent.

So I decided to review “Live Full House and let me tell you I’m glad I did. It ain’t Jerry Lee Lewis and it ain’t Roxy Music but man do the J. Geils Band cook. They mainly stick to the rock and R&B basics but they infuse what are of course a couple of formulas as old as the hills with so much passion you’ll find yourself jumping up and down and screaming along with Peter Wolf who can really shout ‘em out for a white boy. And when he’s not busy emoting, Magic Dick who is my second favorite Dick in rock’n’roll behind Handsome Dick Manitoba, is busy honkadonkin’ up a storm on the old harpoon. Just check out his set piece “Whammer Jammer” if you don’t believe me.

One of the things that make this such a great live LP is the fact that the J. Geils Band keep the songs short instead of dragging ‘em out forever like so many other bands were doing at the turn of the decade. Even the one on which Wolf talks to the audience clocks in at well under 5 minutes, and that’s got to be some kind of record for the time. Steve Marriott, God bless him, wouldn’t have shut up for a good long quarter of professional football. I would love to say the band never lets up or lets things go slack but more or less keeps things jumping at a fever pitch except they kinda do on their otherwise mean as a snake cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Serves You Right to Suffer.” And they do it again on the only original on the LP, “Hard Drivin’ Man.”

But aside from those caveats “Live” Full House is the shit even if the cards on the cover don’t constitute a full house but just three Jacks. Perhaps they were hoping the folks who bought the album were as wasted as I was at the time and wouldn’t know the difference. It’s easy to cheat at poker when everybody else at the table is actually on the floor.

Let’s take a brief listen to the songs. “Looking for a Love” goes full tilt boogie and really makes me wish I’d been conscious the time I saw ‘em. “Homework” is a snaky number and both Magic Dick and J. Geils—the band’s guitar wizard—shine. “First I Look at the Purse” is a four-minute slice of R&B heaven, with Seth Justman’s organ running roughshod over the proceedings and Magic Dick tucking in some nice work the lickin’ stick.

“Pack Fair and Square” features some rollicking piano work and jumps and jives just like the Killer did at the Star Club oh so long ago. Nobody can throw his vocals across a room the way Jerry Lee does but Wolf gives it the old college try, and Magic Dick is all over the damn thing. “Cruisin’ for a Love” is a bluesy strut across the stage and gets my seal of approval. As for “Hard Drivin’ Man” it’s a hard rocker for the ages and would be perfect if Wolf hadn’t insisted upon slowing down in the middle of the song to take a gander at the scenery. And the same goes for “Serves You Right to Suffer,” which I can only describe as a steamroller driving right over your ears. Geils’ guitar is every bit as mean as Jerry Lee on a whole shitload of pills, and it doesn’t even bother me that this one creeps along for the most part like a crawlin’ king snake.

Youth is wasted on the young especially when the young are too wasted to stand up, and I would rue my inability to recall seeing the J. Geils Band if I were the type to rue anything I’ve done, which I’m not. I mean, fuck it, you know? I was thirsty back then and I liked my downs. And in the end run I can always turn this baby on and pretend I’m back at Shippensburg College and screaming along instead of doing the Thorazine shuffle. This will never be one of my very favorite live albums but it’s a damn fine live album and you should check it out because there was a reason people called the J. Geils Band the American Stones and it wasn’t because Peter Wolf had big lips.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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