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Concert Reviews:
Peter Wolf satisfies, on his own, at the Ark

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, May 4, 2014

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ANN ARBOR -- Returning for his encore on Sunday night, May 4, at the Ark, Peter Wolf proudly confessed that "I have a love affair for Detroit."

And that held true even an hour west of the city.

It was clear that plenty of metro Detroiters had made the pilgrimage to see the J. Geils Band frontman and adopted hometown favorite at the Ark, but they've never seen Wolf like he was on Sunday -- not at Pine Knob for the DTE Energy Music Theatre, not at the Palace or even back in the glory days of the Cinderella Ballroom and Cobo Arena. This time out it was Wolf and three accompanists in semi-unplugged fashion, playing a two-hour, 22-song set that played to the singer's strength as a storytelling raconteur and also gave Wolf an intimate and attentive environment to show off solo material that's seldom been properly aired.

It was a unique presentation and a superlative performance, a potential career game-changer that for perhaps the first time allowed Wolf to be as captivating a performer on his own as he is with the Geils.

It was considerably mellower than the average band show, too, but it was hardly a sedate singer-songwriter experience. Wolf came out dressed all in black, from fedora to shoes, just as he would at a Geils show, and struck a few of his trademark arena-sized poses early on, as if to acclimate the first of two sold-out Ark crowds to the fact that it really was him. But fare such as "Growin' Pain," "Long Way Back Again" and "Nothing But the Wheel" drew on folk and country conventions before Wolf and company -- with musical director Duke Levine, who also plays with the Geils Band, mixing electric guitar with acoustic guitar, mandolin and banjo -- lit into the Geils-covered Otis Spann favorite "Homework."

Wolf sampled from his last five solo albums along with a lively version of Lefty Frizell's "She's Gone Gone Gone" and even recited the Tennessee Williams` poem "Gold-Tooth Blues." Best of all, he peppered the set with stories -- about the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger, about a memorable airline flight with Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, about hosting Muddy Waters and his band at his Boston apartment and about his friendship with Tennessee Williams. The setting also let Wolf's rapport with the crowd be loose and interactive; at one point he befriended a young girl named Justine in the front row, who later hopped on stage to have Wolf sign a copy of the J. Geils Band's "Bloodshot" album.

And he didn't forget the music that inspired such dedication from the Motor City and its environs. Wolf played "Cry One More Time," which he introduced as the first song he ever wrote for the Geils Band, early in the set, and later on played a bluegrass-style version of "Love Stinks" -- pitching it for the soundtrack to a speculative sequel of "O Brother, Where Art Thou," and finished the main set with singalong versions of "Give It To Me," complete with all his trademark dance moves, and a medley of "Detroit Breakdown" and the Bobby Womack-written "Lookin' For a Love."

"Musta Got Lost," meanwhile, brought the night to a more than satisfying close -- and a welcome confirmation that while Geils performances may be few and far between these days, Wolf has found a concept that may well prove far more rewarding.

Wolf performs again at The Ark at 8 p.m. Monday, but tickets are sold out.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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