Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Saturday night wasn’t the loneliest night of the year as a tour de force, sold-out performance by Peter Wolf & the Midnight Travellers proved at The Egg. The bond between the ageless Wolf and his audience rivals that of any on the scene today. It was a night of music from all genres (more than 20 songs), references to Lark Street and Delmar (yes, the sleepy ‘burb got a holla) and vivid stories about some of the greatest musicians – past and present – ever to grace a stage.
Hitting the stage to a cloudburst of applause, Peter Wolf launched into “Long Line,” a rocking tune with a dash of country piano by Tom West and steel guitar by Kevin Barry. Recalling the importuning he heard for “Nothing but the Wheel” at his 2010 concert in Albany, Wolf sent out the song early to local drummer George Lipscomb, who was seated near the stage. Shifting the set to soul, Wolf played some bluesy harp for “Long Way Back Again” (from “Fool’s Parade”) and paid tribute to Stax Records with a cover of William Bell’s “Never Like This Before” that had the theater grooving not only to the beat and fine solos, but also the singer’s energetic stage moves.
After telling a priceless, hilarious story about Howlin’ Wolf’s conversation with an agricultural studies major at Harvard, Peter Wolf did a rendition of “Homework” by Otis Rush, done in a meter that the Wolf and his genius guitarist Hubert Sumlin would’ve certainly appreciated. Upright bassist Marty Ballou (aka Mr. Jazz) played a flawless solo take on Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas,” showing that the fun was only just beginning.
“Always Asking for You” and “I Don’t Wanna Know” from Wolf’s 2010 album “Midnight Souvenirs” were just plain fantastic, made memorable by Wolf’s eye (and everybody else’s, for that matter) being caught by a tall, gorgeous blonde who strutted alongside the edge of the stage to find a place to dance in the side aisle. Likewise, “The Green Fields of Summer,” a duet on the album with Neko Case, took on a different meaning as a solo piece, a yearning for immortality as much as for love.
Obviously, there were some in the audience who only knew Wolf from his days fronting his old band, and he didn’t disappoint them – in fact, he had fun playing with their nostalgiac fixation. Recalling the love he has had for the music of Bill Monroe, Wolf and company transformed the J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks” into an Appalachian hoedown, complete with deft mandolin playing by Duke Levine and the crowd singing the chorus. The visionary country-rock of “Cry One More Time” was preceded by stories of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris; “Give It to Me” retained the raunchy reggae beat of old, with superb drumming by Tom Arey; and “Lookin’ for a Love” was a testifying showcase, with Wolf singing and moving like he was tearing up the stage at the Apollo, where he saw many of his idols – including the Valentinos – play when he as barely a teen. The Egg erupted with a standing ovation, and Wolf and his band left briefly, returning for several songs.
With a nod to the approach of Valentine’s Day, Wolf dug deep into his solo catalog, pulling out the chestnut “When Women Are Lonely” from 1990’s “Up to No Good.” Offering a shout out to ailing friend Merle Haggard, Wolf sang “It’s Too Late for Me” with spine-tingling restraint, then followed it with the rousing Bakersfield sounds of Buck Owens’s “Truck Drivin’ Man” (with special guests Roy Sludge and Delmar native Jim Haggerty). The intimacy of the venue prompted Wolf to wander through the audience for an impassioned “I’m Going Start All Over Again”, and close with an expected J. Geils Band favorite, “Musta Got Lost,” a fine close to what will undoubtedly rank among the best concerts of 2012.
Opening act the Roy Sludge Duo, who also appeared with Peter Wolf at The Egg in 2010, brought wit and bravado in an engaging 10-song set. A majority of the set by the Boston duo drew from the fine mix of drinking and trucking songs featured on their “latest cylinder,” the aptly titled “Too Drunk to Truck.” Armed with an acoustic guitar and a voice that brings to mind Ernest Tubb and Junior Brown, and accompanied by dynamic upright bassist/vocalist Jim Haggerty (of Rocky Velvet and Wanda Jackson fame), Sludge weaved lyrics of benders and highway shenanigans, the dregs of waking up to the morning after and and reaching for whatever beverage can do the trick.
“I Got Hammered (Then I Got Nailed),” “On Tap, in the Can or the Bottle” and the dark humor of “There Was A Crash” were engaging Sun Records-sounding gems. A former Boston area delivery man, Sludge brought authority and fine details to tales such as “Back the Truck Up” and a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I ode to the Maine highway of “Tombstone Every Mile,” anchored in Sludge’s basso profundo turn on “there’s a stretch…”
Martin Benjamin’s photograph at Metroland
PETER WOLF SET LIST
Nothing But the Wheel
Long Way Back Again
Never Like This Before (William Bell)
Homework (Otis Rush/Willie Dixon)
St. Thomas (Sonny Rollins)
Always Asking for You
I Don’t Wanna Know
The Way You Look Tonight
The Green Fields of Summer
Wastin’ My Time
Riverside Drive (for Willy DeVille)
Cry One More Time
It Was Fun for a While (new, unreleased song)
Can’t Get Started
Give It to Me
Lookin’ for a Love (the Valentinos)
When Women Are Lonely
It’s Too Late for Me (for Merle Haggard)
Truck Drivin’ Man
I’m Going to Start All Over Again
Musta Got Lost
ROY SLUDGE DUO SET LIST
Too Drunk to Truck
I Got Hammered (Then I Got Nailed)
On Tap, In the Can or the Bottle
There Was a Crash
Back the Truck Up
Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin (Ernest Tubb)
Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis)
Tombstone Every Mile