Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 18, 2015)
Although the J. Geils Band released their first album in 1970, it took them 11 years to become a huge chart success. 1981’s Freeze Frame album sold well and it boasted two big singles, “Centerfold”, and “Freeze Frame”. Both the album and “Centerfold” hit number one in the US.
During the years that led up to these chart-toppers, the band still had the occasional moderate hit, and they became known as a strong live act. For evidence of this, we go to House Party Live in Germany, a concert recorded in April 1979 for the Rockpalast TV series.
Party presents 14 songs, with an emphasis on the band’s 1978 release Sanctuary; that album provides its title tune, “Jus’ Can’t Stop Me”, “I Could Hurt You”, “One Last Kiss”, “Teresa”, and “Wild Man”. From 1974’s Nightmares...and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle, we get “Nightmares”.
1973’s Bloodshot delivers “Ain’t Nothing But a House Party” and “Give It to Me”, while 1971’s The Morning After features “Whammer Jammer” and “Looking for a Love”. The band’s self-titled 1970 debut boasts “First I Look at the Purse” and “Pack Fair and Square”. The Geils Band also covers the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go”, a track they initially released on their 1976 live album Blow Your Face Out.
Since I was 14 when Freeze Frame emerged, it was my first real introduction to Geils. Actually, I knew their 1980 single “Love Stinks” but otherwise I remained unfamiliar with them until their smashes from 1981.
This meant I never got the chance to appreciate Geils in their prime. Lead singer Peter Wolf went solo after the success of Freeze Frame, and that essentially killed the band. Geils put out one 1984 album without Wolf, but it flopped, and that was it for the band as a creative entity. Starting in the late 90s, they reunited for concerts over the years – and as of 2015, they continue to do so – but for commercial purposes, they ceased to exist after the Freeze Frame era.
Does House Party make me wish I’d been able to see Geils in their heyday? Sort of, but not as much as I might have expected. Geils was – and still is – regarded as a top-flight live act, and House Party offers some hints of those talents. However, I just don’t dig the band’s music enough to feel twinges of regret.
Not that this means I dislike what I hear during the 1979 concert. The Geils Band presents a lively blues/boogie-rock set with lots of energy, and the songs are pretty good. If forced to pick a clunker here, I couldn’t do so, as the tracks all seem enjoyable enough.
That said, I also don’t think I could name a song that stands out to me as especially great. To better acquaint myself with the music, I played the CD included in this package a good 10 times before I watched the DVD, and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t find myself eager to listen again and again. It’s a good set of songs but nothing here makes me want to explore the band’s back catalog.
Still, I like the music, and the band plays the tracks well. Like I mentioned, House Party boasts a lively concert, and the visual side of things adds some spark. In particular, Wolf proves to be a pretty dynamic front man, as he holds the stage well and adds life to the proceedings.
Since House Party was shot for TV, it manages to depict the concert well. We find a meat and potatoes representation of the show, and that seems fine with me. Nothing about the direction stands out as memorable, but the editing and visual choices complement the proceedings in a positive enough manner.
All in all, House Party works fairly nicely as a concert video. I can’t claim that either the presentation or the music excites me, but the show remains enjoyable from start to finish.