Perhaps the hardest challenge in rock 'n' roll is to transfer the excitement of the hot blues band in a packed local bar on a Saturday night to the impersonal expanse of a basketball arena. Yet Boston's J. Geils Band did just that at the Capital Centre last night. The band has magnified the crafty nuances of its blues club days into grand gestures. The grandest gesture of all last night was an enormous rock march beat with syncopated variations driven home by Stephen Bladd's very physical snare-drum slams. The whole sextet has played together since the late '60s. As a result, they gave each phrase a unified surge, a clutter-free statement and a clean break-off.
Lead singer Peter Wolf was the showman. He would leap high over his microphone on the final chord of one song and land on the first beat of the next song. He introduced several songs with long Springsteenish monologues that attacked unemployment, the draft and Moral Majority. His irreverant humor spilled over into his wry singing on anti-anthems like "Love Stinks." Seth Justman--who writes the songs with Wolf--displayed a rare ability to make synthesizers sound fun and human on songs like "Come Back." Magic Dick was the lifeline to the band's past with his bluesy harmonica wails on "Just Can't Wait." Lead guitarist J. Geils wasn't so much fast as he was smart, slipping short, well-shaped phrases into old songs like "Detroit Breakdown" and new ones like "Freeze Frame."