J. GEILS BAND -- Sanctuary (EMI America, SO-17006).
SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY & THE ASBURY JUKES -- Hearts of Stone (Epic, JE 35488).
SATURDAY AT 8 -- The J. Geils Band and Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes at the Capitol Contre. $6 & $7, reserved.
If you ever go to a neighborhood bar on a weekend, you're likely to see a local band playing its collective heart out. The grind of four sets a night never seems to diminish the enthusiasm, and you get the feeling that this is where real rock'n'roll is developed.
Saturday night, the Capitol Centre will be transformed into a huge bar (sans bartender) when the J. Geils Band and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes doubleteam whatever fans have the strength to keep up with their brand of firepower for a whole evening.
This might seem like a strange booking to those who think that promoters should cater to a wide range of tastes when paiting acts. Realistically, though, this is a match made in rock'n'roll heaven. Anyone who pays to see either one of these bands in not looking for California ambiance. This crowd will want to boogie, and it'll have come to the right place.
Both the J. Geils Band and the Asbury Jukes grew up in clubs. Geils in Boston and the Jukes along the Jersey shore. Both bands have sounds that reflect years of drowning out hecklers and drunks. Both play basic, good-time rock'n'roll -- the Geils Band with a bit more raw fury, the Jukes with a Phil Spectorish power sweep. Both lead singers, Geils' Peter Wolf and the Jukes' Southside Johnny Laon, are liable to explode at a moment's notice. (Lyon once ruined his throat through sheer strain and was unable to sing for a while and, most recently, tore up his arm in a stage mishap that required hospitalization.) Both groups give you your money's worth.
Unlike the Jukes, who have been building a national audience gradually the past few years through constant touring, the J. Geils Band is coming back from a long spell out of the public eye. The most publicity they'd gotten recently was Peter Wolf's marriage to Faye Dunaway, and temporarily shortening their neme to "Geils" didn't help their fading image.
But their newest release, "sanctuary," reaffirms their pound-it-out style and may bring back the audience that made songs liek "Lookin' for a Love" popular in the early '70s.
With the acclaim currently accorded gritty rock veterans like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger, and newcomers like The Cars, the J. Geils Band's time may have returned. Actually, it should have returned with the critically acclaimed "Monkey Island," their last release for Atlantic, but that album flopped commercially and now the J. Geils Band must start all over again.
Starting all over in this group's case means going out and presenting the same format that's been its staple for years: no-nonsense, heavy-tonnage music. Not that the J. Geils Band is simply loud. Aerosmith is loud. Ted Nugent is loud. Led Zeppelin and Foreigner are loud. The J. Geils Band is powerful. On an average night, it'll have you up and dancing within three songs and it doesn't really have a ballad in its repertory that can slow the pace enough to make a difference.
"Sanctuary" follows the same pattern. All the songs are written by Wolf and keyboardist Seth Justman, and there's nothing fancy. The title cut has a lean hunger accentuated by J. Geils' stinging guitar. "Jus' Canht Stop Me" is a pre-disco dance tune and "One Last Kiss" shows that hard rock can have catchy choruses.
There is also some obvious pilfering. "Take It Back" sounds a lot like the band's own "Give It to Me," and "I Don't Hang Around Much Anymore" -- an affecting change of pace -- is reminiscent of Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town."
Springsteen's influence is much more overt on Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes' "Hearts of Stone." The Boss wrote three of the tracks. His right-hand man, "Miami" Steve VanZandt (a former Juke), produced the album, wrote six songs and added backup vocals and guitar. To finish off the Jersey connection, E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg anchors the whole affair. But "hearts of Stone" is a Jukes record, not a Springsteen session, and even the Springsteen compositions have the Jukes' unmistakable moxy.
"Hearts of Stone" is not as overwhelming as its predecessor, "This Time It's for Real"; that album practically melted styluses on contact, and every song sounded as if it was about to jettison into another dimension. This one is a bit tamer. Still, the Asbury Jukes have the best horn section in rock, and it's no less exciting on this album. Also, the ghost of Phil Spector haunts the production, adding an element of nostalgia to numbers like "This Time Baby's Gone for Good" and "Light Don't Shine."
On the negative side, Johnny Lyon seems a bit more cautious with his vocals this time around. Maybe someone told him to "clean up his act" for mass consumption, but the result is a hesitance that takes some of the edge off his sentiments.
Despite this, anyone who has ever seen Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes knows that a hesitant Southside operates at about the same speed as a Mirage fighter, and he should be ready to race on Saturday. After all, bar bands have an inherent need to prove they're the best, and the J. Geils Band should give the Jukes all the incentive it needs to cut loose.
No matter that the energy has more ground to cover in the big arena. These two bands approach rock'n'roll with combat intensity, wielding it as a weapon against Doonesbury's dreaded "mellow." It should be quite a show.