BANGOR, Maine — An unusually rowdy but good-natured crowd danced the night away on the Bangor Waterfront as the J. Geils Band brought the party to the Queen City. The beloved New England band played to a packed house numbering in the thousands, who cheered, hooted and sang along all night long. Peter Wolf, Magic Dick and the man behind the band, J. Geils himself, rocked the crowd for two solid hours.
The band rolled along like a big steam engine, with nasty blues riffs on both harmonica and guitar, a three-piece backing vocal group, a four-piece horn section, and Wolf’s elastic rock star stage moves. Early 1970s classics such as “Hard Drivin’ Man” and “Just Can’t Wait” were right up against big hits like “Freeze Frame.”
The always hilarious Wolf, he of some of the best onstage banter of all time, threatened the crowd with a performance of Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” before breaking into the swingin’ classic “Southside Shuffle,” which inspired syncopated hand-clapping among the audience.
“This is a song we recorded in J. Geils’ bathroom because it had a good echo,” said Wolf before launching into the oldie but goodie “Homework.”
The J. Geils Band was founded more than 40 years ago, and despite a few breaks, they remain as tight and funky as ever. The last time they played in Maine was at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center in 1999. The band was known for its ’70s and ’80s New Year’s Eve shows in Portland, which brought the house party to Maine — just as it did Thursday evening.
“I bet I’ve seen Peter Wolf solo live at least eight or 10 times, and the J. Geils Band two or three times,” said Peter Grant of Portland, who drove up to Bangor with his wife, Laurie, just to see the show. “I remember the first time I ever saw them was New Year’s Eve at the civic center in Portland, in 1981. Peter Wolf is just a great entertainer. He’s such an amazing frontman.”
There were plenty of J. Geils and Peter Wolf T-shirts in the crowd, and though it skewed toward folks in their 40s and older, there were a significant number of 20-somethings in attendance. The vibe overall was one of pure, uninhibited fun.
“I can barely remember when the first time I heard them was,” said Mike Cormier of Bangor, who was in attendance with his wife, Tammy. “But I know the first song I heard was ‘House Party.’ When I heard they were coming I ran right out and bought tickets. We went to Ray Lamontagne, too.”
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood started off the evening with an hourlong set of harmony-drenched Southern rock with a touch of Grateful Dead-inspired jamming. The bearded, soft-spoken Robinson, lead singer of the legendary ’90s band the Black Crowes, led the group with his trademark soulful wail.
Up next for the Waterfront Concerts is ventriloquist Jeff Dunham this Sunday, Aug. 7, and Bob Dylan and Leon Russell on Aug. 20.