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The J. Geils Band: Live Full House - Album Of The Week Club review

The J. Geils Band's Live Full House is a vivid celebration of live rock'n'roll, but is there more to Peter Wolf & Co. than the world's best keg party soundtrack?

J. Geils Band - Liver Full House
(Image: © Atlantic Records)
J. Geils Band: Live Full House

J. Geils Band - Live Full House

(Image credit: Atlantic Records)

First I Look at the Purse
Homework
Pack Fair and Square
Whammer Jammer
Hard Drivin' Man
Serves You Right to Suffer
Cruisin' for a Love
Looking for a Love

By the end of 1971 the J. Geils Band had released two studio albums – 1970's self-titled debut and the following year's The Morning After – but, unlike their good friends The Allman Brothers, they hadn't managed to capture the unbridled excitement of their live shows on record. 

Enter manager Dee Anthony, then overseeing rock heavyweights Humble Pie, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Joe Cocker. “He came to see us play,” said singer Peter Wolf, "and said: ‘You’re a great live band, but I listened to your albums and I’m just not getting it. Why don’t you just do a live record? Just capture what you’re doin’ on stage.’”

In April ’72 the band headed for Detroit, a favoured stronghold, and pitched up for two nights at The Cinderella Ballroom. The result was the kinetic Full House, which featured strutting takes of First I Look At The Purse, Looking For A Love and Otis Rush’s Homework, alongside two-fisted originals Whammer Jammer and Hard Drivin’ Man

Perhaps the best of the bunch was a monumental version of John Lee Hooker’s Serves You Right To Suffer, a song that folded everything vital about the J. Geils Band – wailing harp, churning organ solos, pungent blues licks and the irrepressible Wolf – into the best part of 10 glorious minutes. 

The album may have failed to crack the Billboard Top 50, but it was a huge critical success with a potent presence on underground radio, and it remains one of the finest live documents of its era.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in September 1972

  • Close to the Edge - Yes
  • Phoenix - Grand Funk Railroad
  • Live Full House - The J. Geils Band
  • Glorified Magnified - Manfred Mann's Earth Band
  • Below the Salt - Steeleye Span
  • Give It Up - Bonnie Raitt
  • Nervous on the Road - Brinsley Schwarz
  • Sandy - Sandy Denny
  • Solomon's Seal - Pentangle
  • Squawk - Budgie
  • Vol. 4 - Black Sabbath

What they said...

"It's easy to overlook J. Geils himself on guitar when you have a magnetic frontman like Peter Wolf or the unstoppable force that is harp player Magic Dick (check Whammer Jammer for proof of his greatness), but his soloing on this track serves notice that he could tear off a ferocious solo with the best of them. "Live" Full House is a short, punchy shot of rock & roll genius by one of the great bands of the '70s and one of the best live albums ever recorded." (AllMusic)

"Minute for Minute, "Live" Full House is one of the densest rock live albums ever produced. Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, it packs a relentless punch that leaves the listener drunk with pleasure from the powerful momentum the band brought to the stage and left them wanting more." (All About Jazz)

"There are damn few live albums that hold up as strong as this all the way through -- or that you'll ever want to play again. I'll bet this one will be in my 'hot' file until their next album is out, and if this is any kind of clue, it ought to be one bad jam!" (Rolling Stone)

What you said...

Philip Qvist: Wow - this was an excellent choice. Until now I was only familiar with their 80s Centerfold and Freeze Frame output. Not bad, but not much to excite me or to encourage me look out for their earlier stuff.

Talk about missing out. Live Full House is one fantastic live record. Singer Peter Wolf on top of his game, Seth Justman and "J" himself keeping things steady on keyboards and guitars and a solid rhythm section who all tick the right boxes; but yes, Magic Dick on Harmonica is the star of the show.

All the songs are great but First I Look At The Purse, Serves You Right to Suffer and closing track Looking For A Love are the standout tracks.

A great blues album and a very pleasant surprise - The J. Geils Band definitely deserve further exploring. I can fully understand why Peter Wolf left the band after Freeze Frame. A solid 8/10 for me.

John Davidson: Ok. have listened through and this is not for me. There's nothing fresh or innovative here among the standard blues tropes (unlike say a Bob Seger/Tom Petty or even Steve Miller).

It just sounds like very competent old style blues-based rock'n'roll, with much of the 'lead' work on harmonica rather than guitar. Like a Blues Brothers without the horn section or a George Thorogood but without Bad To The Bone.

It's the kind of music than I can enjoy live and in context (e..g if I was drinking in a bar and they were playing in the background) but it's not music that I would choose to listen to. 5/10

Greg Schwepe: OK. Listened to this for first time in... gee, over 30 years or more? It was at least the last time I had a working cassette deck, as that was the medium I had this on! Man, I love Spotify as I now have access to everything, for the most part!

So, for the J. Geils Band. The live albums truly display the band in their element. The energy, musicianship, all make this album what it is. You can also envision this being totally cranked at a keg party in college; with everyone singing along or waiting for a Peter Wolf "rap" to mimic. A party in the back yard of a house and speakers placed in the upstairs window. Brings back memories, eh?

That said, it's great for a J. Geils album, but I wouldn't necessarily put this in a Top 10 list of best live albums from the 70s. As you can see from some of the other comments, Geils was usually a "yay or nay" band. You really dug them, or you could care less about them. But if I was looking to party and really put something loud on, this would be it.

The first time I saw them was on the Freeze Frame tour at the Toledo Sports Arena, a typical "Midwest Hockey Barn" with festival seating: the floor totally open for standing. We ran in when the doors opened and were on the floor about 20-30 yards from the stage. Close enough to see Peter Wolf do his "pole vaulting" with the mic stand. Yeah, that was a rockin' show. The vibe totally matched this album.

Pete Mineau: Great album from a great band! This was the first album I ever bought by them back in the day, albeit on 8-track. I continued being a fan of theirs, buying all their releases as they came out, as well as the albums before "Live" Full House! There was a copy of Ladies Invited in my high school art room (we were allowed to spin albums in there while we "worked") and although it was one of my least favourite Geils' offering, I did play it from time to time.

I finally got the opportunity to see The J. Geils Band live in late 1975 when they were touring for the Hotline album. Opening for them was Thee Image, a group featuring Duane Hitchings (formerly of Cactus) and Mike Pinera (formerly of Blues Image and Iron Butterfly)

I remember they opened with Love-Itis from the Hotline album, and from that point onward, I was blown away! They were definitely a live band! Virtuoso connoisseurs of their instruments, with one of the most energetic and electrifying frontman to lead a group! That evening is seared in my brain!

The next year, 1976, brought the release of the band's second live album, Blow Your Face Out. You could not go to a high school beer party back then without hearing it. It was everywhere! As popular as it was, I still preferred "Live" Full House! Maybe/probably because it was my starting point and first discovery of 'The Bad Boys From Boston'!

I continued to purchase every release by The J. Geils band throughout their time together. When Freeze Frame was released in 1981, I was somewhat upset that they had moved so far away from their original R&B roots and into a slick, pop sound. However, the following year's release of Showtime!, their third live album, proved that they were not disappointing in concert.

Sadly, the band split up, with 1984's You're Gettin' Even While I'm Gettin' Odd being their last studio release but without vocalist Peter Wolf.

Although they never released another studio album, they did reform from time to time to do various live shows throughout the years. After all, that is what they are the best at. I would give J. Geils Band's "Live" Full House a rating of 10 out of 10!

(I have been pushing this album since I first heard it back in the Seventies... including the 1976-77 year when I was vice-president of my high school Senior class).

Wade Babineau: My first exposure to J. Geils was the Freeze Frame album when I was in Jr. High in 1981. It wasn't until years later in college when we were working late on a project and someone threw this on the tape deck. Blew my mind! 

First I Look at the Purse sets the tone early. Peter Wolf's intro to Pack Fair And Square is hilariously awesome ("take out your teeth, I wanna suck on your gums"). Whammer Jammer and Magic Dick on harmonica speaks for itself. Not lost on this listener was the stellar keyboard work of Seth Justman. I can't even think of a bad track on this. Have to wonder if there were more tracks recored for this that haven't been released. I haven't listened to this in some time. Thanks for reminding me to go back and give it a go again.

Erik Mooney: Such an underrated little gem. Always overshadowed by their 80s stuff. This album shows us how good they were as a blues rock band.

Alex Hayes: I do love me a good live rock'n'roll album, and this definitely qualifies as one of those.

In a way though, my favourite live albums have always made me lament my relatively young age when measured against the lifespan of rock music overall. I was simply too young to have seen many of the great bands in their prime, so the classic live recordings are as close as I'm ever gonna get. That's always irked me slightly.

I would have loved to have been in the audience for the likes of, just off the top of my head, Quo Live!, All The World's A Stage, Strangers In The Night and Live...In The Heart Of The City. To a lesser degree, Live Full House (which the internet tells me was recorded at The Cinderella Ballroom, Detroit in April 1972) can now be added to that list too. Alas, it wasn't to be. What a shame. It sounds like a cracking show.

This is the first time that I've seriously delved into the works of the J. Geils Band, that song notwithstanding. It's good quality, shit-kicking, R&B-based rock'n'roll. You can't lose with that formula really. They sound like the kind of band that would have been more naturally suited to a live environment as opposed to the studio though.

And now I know how to pronounce Geils, as in it rhymes with 'miles'. I always wondered about that.

Mike Canoe: "Maybe the liveliest live album I have ever heard." That is how I started my review for Slade Aive! at the tail-end of year one of this august club. That album now has some equally rambunctious company in Live Full House.

You can almost smell the sweat and feel the stage buckle as this stirring sextet romps through a half hour and change of classic R&B like First I Look At The Purse and Lookin' For A Love.

What stops the J. Geils Band from being another nostalgia act like Showaddywaddy or Sha Na Na is the feeling that you are in the presence of true believers, right down to the lead singer speaking in tongues. The band's stretched out jam on John Lee Hooker's Serves You Right To Suffer serves then as the bands' altar call. Come forward, all ye sinners - and sin some more.

Enjoyable as it is, there is another similarity to Slade Alive! in that I am left wondering if I am getting a true representation of the band. All songs but Hard Drivin' Man are covers, and a glance at songwriter credits show that singer Peter Wolf, keyboard player Seth Justman, and the man with the same name as the band, guitarist J. Geils, were all writing originals at that point. I can understand that they might not have been writing at the level of Smokey Robinson or John Lee Hooker yet, but it leaves me with the impression of being in the presence of the world's most spectacular bar band.

But "being in the presence of" is something. One of my least favourite sentences when I read about rock music is "You had to experience them live," because until the Illuminati return to me the blueprints to my time machine, I will never be able to do that. Live Full House is one of the rare live albums that actually fills me with the excitement of being there.

Brian Carr: As I listened to J. Geils Band’s Full House this week, I imagined myself in a bar with a live band cranking it out. In that setting, it’s near impossible to not get caught up in the energy. But count me among the ones to fold on this album. High energy and solid playing are present throughout, but to me the songs were unremarkable and lacking hooks that make me sit up and take notice.

When Geils stepped into the spotlight, I was impressed. As someone who can’t stand a harmonica unless Stevie Wonder is playing it, I wish there was more J. Geils and less Magic Dick (though kudos are deserved for his moniker).

Gary Claydon: Hot 'n' sweaty R 'n' B: you can almost see the sweat running down your speakers. A decent album to have on in the background while you're having a few drinks and a good craic with friends. I've always been a sucker for a well-blown blues harp so I'm gonna grab me another beer and a whisky chaser and go around again. 

Except this time round, I don't wanna listen to J.Geils. I wanna listen to Dr. Feelgood, or ZZ Top, or George Thorogood, or Slade Alive!, or...Well, you get the picture. 'Cos, in the end, Full House is simply high quality barroom boogie. If I was at the gig I'd be having a high old time but as an album? Not bad but nothing special. It's only rock'n'roll and I like it, but there's a lot of it about and a lot that's done much better than this. 5/10

Bill Griffin: I imagine this was a really good live band but I can't see anyone sitting down with a pair of headphones on and actually listening to them. This is background party music. The most successful bar band, perhaps?

Marco LG: Live albums in the 70s were all the rage. Whether published to fulfil contractual obligations or to take some respite from a work schedule that required multiple albums per year, concert recordings often showcased a band in their genuine environment. 

Some of these performances went on to become legendary: Ted Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo!, UFO’s Strangers in the Night and Kiss’s Alive! being the first examples that spring to mind. The success of this form of recording was such that in 1980 the NWOBHM band Vardis took the unorthodox decision of releasing the live album 100MPH as their debut.

Unfortunately for the J. Geils Band, all that competition makes for pretty unflattering comparisons to Live Full House. The energy of the band onstage is unquestionable, as is the entertainment value of the music, but it all sounds unremarkable and after a while it just stops working altogether and my hand reaches for the skip button. But I don’t get to press any, because in the space of 35 minutes the J. Geils Band are off the stage anyway. The length of a pub set for what sounds like a pub band, albeit a pretty good one.

I will not listen to this album again on purpose, but if any of these songs will ever come up on the radio or in a classic rock playlist I will gladly mention the J. Geils Band and the harmonica of Magic Dick. 6 out of 10 from me.

Roland Bearne: I'm afraid for the first time this amazing page has served up a clunker. Ok, there's plenty of energy and the band serves up the kind of set that I would very happy listening to at the bar while having a merry wibble with a bunch of mates. In amongst the ooh oohs', baby baby's, yeah yeahs and c'mons there are probably some songs but it's hard to tell. 

There's plenty of wailing harp, which is ok, the lick stick gag was the best bit... but overall I found myself yearning for Strangers In The Night, Live And Dangerous, No Sleep Til Hammersmith. Oh, and the cover isn't a full house, but I'm guessing that's a gag. Sorry and next please.

Final Score: 7.17⁄10 (106 votes cast, with a total score of 761)

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