been eight years since Peter Wolf last played Albany, and
this time he was booked into the right venue. His J. Geils
Band days are nearly three decades behind him (not counting
a series of reunion dates in 2009) and his solo albums (there
have been seven) have increasingly revealed an artist who
is following the lessons of his musical forebears: He continues
to get better with age. The fact that Wolf was performing
in the Egg’s smaller Swyer Theater was a surprise, but also
the correct move: The room’s intimacy encouraged listening,
which is what he wants.
just-released Midnight Souvenirs album is a career
best (as were its three predecessors). The singer knows that
a large percentage of people who come to see him want Geils
songs. And he gave them some, but on his terms, meaning they
did not define the night. A few were scattered into the 15-song
set, and another appeared as an encore.
band (including longtime guitarist Duke Levine) are sympathetically
matched to one another and the material at hand. A look over
the night’s first five songs tells the story well. They opened
with “Growin’ Pain,” the midtempo, midvolume number that opened
2002’s Sleepless. With barely a beat between, they
leapt into “Long Line” from the album of the same name, showing
that they could get riffy and rocking on a moment’s notice.
pulled up a stool and sat down for the quieter “Long Way Back
Again” from 1998’s Fools Parade. He took this opportunity
to masterfully send a message that the night’s dynamics were
going to include whisper-quiet passages, as he stepped away
from the mic to play a few notes on the harmonica using only
the room’s acoustics. From there he introduced the new album
with the country lilt of “Always Asking for You” followed
by the full-tilt Stones-like groove of “I Don’t Wanna Know.”
The band moved between genres with ease, making the differences
assets, as the night’s flow took on its own personality.
Wolf is never short of fully committed to the songs he sings.
The curve of his career as an artist perfectly mirrors the
movement through the years that describes all of our lives.
The partying songs are gone, giving way to loss, longing,
and mortality. The loss is tempered by acceptance and experience,
and the longing isn’t crippled by regret. There’s lust, but
experience and self-awareness keep it all in perspective.
Large parts of the audience were there to relive something
of their youth, but they’d do well to listen to what Peter
Wolf has created over the past decade. It truly is the soundtrack
of their lives.
Lena 50th Anniversary Concert
Guthrie, Robin and Linda Williams and Their Fine Group
College, May 22
many folk coffeehouses sprang up in America during the late
1950s and early 1960s, most were lucky to last a dozen years.
Club 47 in Harvard Square ran from 1958 to 1963; and Greenwich
Village’s Gaslight, also launched in 1958, folded in 1971.
But as The New York Times noted in a May 18 story,
Saratoga’s famed Caffe Lena, opened by Bill and Lena Spencer
in 1960, has endured for 50 years.
the venue’s golden anniversary weekend was a concert by folk’s
favorite son Arlo Guthrie at Skidmore’s new Arthur Zankel
Music Center. Its 600-seat theater, built with funds from
a $46 million bequest to the institution, is an aural and
visual treasure offering crystalline acoustics and an expansive
view of the campus greenery through a high glass-paneled wall
behind the stage. In this setting, Guthrie, himself a Lena
alumnus, serenaded a sold-out house with his signature songs
and tickled them with droll anecdotes and reminiscences of
everything from seeing Leadbelly when Arlo was age 2 to playing
at Woodstock, dosed (and perhaps even higher than I was watching
him in the crowd).
performed his delectable solo set on 6- and 12-string guitars,
piano and rack-mounted harmonica. His playing was flawless
throughout; his singing nasal but reliable. Best of all, though,
were the often hilarious spiels with which the master raconteur
introduced his songs.
as a prelude to “St. James Infirmary,” he milked every drop
of humor from his tale of purchasing an old MGA sports car
from Pete Seeger. Seeger, somehow thinking he was in England,
took the young Guthrie out for a spin on the left side of
the road and was oblivious to an oncoming truck as he explained
the features under the dashboard to a terrified Guthrie. Seeger
swerved out the way just in time.
“Coming into Los Angeles,” he told of his set at Woodstock,
where, thinking he’d be performing on Saturday, he took psychedelics
on Friday. Informed that he would be on next, an alarmed Guthrie
found himself, as he described it, blending with the molecular
structure of the stage’s floorboards as he stepped forward
were Robin and Linda Williams and their Fine Group, a singing
Virginia couple augmented by electric bass, fiddle and mandolin.
With Linda on guitar and banjo and Robin on guitar and harmonica,
they served up a tight bluegrassy/old-timey mix of originals
and covers. Linda Williams’ strong, clear voice is among the
best in the folk field.
50th, Caffe Lena.