LIVE: Peter Wolf & the Midnight Travelers @ The Egg, 5/13/16
Review by Steven Stock
Peter Wolf was a consummate showman on a recent Friday at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre, stalking across the stage like a caged leopard, dropping to his knees more often than a Manhattan hooker during Fleet Week and finally sashaying through the crowd pleading “Give It to Me.” It could’ve been mere kitsch, but Wolf sang with utter conviction, and the Midnight Travelers sealed the deal with a twin-guitar attack that even the Stones might envy.
Having collaborated with a bevy of high-powered musicians during his long career, Wolf indulged in some name-dropping during his between-song banter, but even this was ultimately charming. Wolf gave the impression he was more awed by Don Covay than by Sir Mick before the Travelers eased into a sultry version of Covay’s “The Usual Place.” Another nod to Wolf’s fondness for soul nuggets came late in the set with a reverent version of the Valentinos’ 1963 hit “Lookin’ for a Love.” (Valentinos’ singer Bobby Womack found love two years later, when the 21-year-old married Sam Cooke’s 29-year-old widow.)
The other recurring strand throughout the set was, surprisingly perhaps, country music. Wolf broke out his harmonica several times, most effectively on a cover of Moe Bandy’s 1974 weeper “It Was Always So Easy to Find an Unhappy Woman.” Marty Ballou switched from electric to upright bass for “Nothing but the Wheel” and “Some Other Time, Some Other Place.” Perched on a stool, Wolf sang the latter with compelling sincerity, quite unlike his friend Sir Mick’s condescending approach to country on “Far Away Eyes.”
The J. Geils Band tune “Cry One More Time” was given a definitive country treatment by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris on 1973’s GP, but at the Swyer, the Travelers delivered a punchier, more muscular version. Another crowd-pleaser was the smooth segue from Bill Monroe’s “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” to a bluegrass version of “Love Stinks.”
Wolf had to bring his A game to avoid being upstaged by opening act Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams. Their set was no effete watered-down Americana crap, it was 100-proof intoxicating American Music.
Campbell’s guitar work evoked “that thin wild mercury sound” that Robbie Robertson distilled when the Hawks were backing Dylan some 50 years ago (Campbell’s stint with Dylan was much longer but more recent, from 1997 to 2004.) Williams sang with a sassy swagger, and the Dirt Farmer rhythm section of Justin Guip on drums and Byron Isaacs on bass were impeccable.
PETER WOLF & THE MIDNIGHT TRAVELERS SET LIST
It Was Always So Easy to Find an Unhappy Woman (Moe Bandy)
Nothing but the Wheel
Some Other Time, Some Other Place
Cry One More Time
Can’t Get Started
Peace of Mind
The Usual Place (Don Covay)
When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again (Bill Monroe) > Love Stinks
Fun for Awhile
(Band intros and solos)
I Don’t Wanna Know
Give It to Me
Lookin’ For a Love (the Valentinos)
I Need You Tonight