Music review

Boston rock twin bill thrills Fenway crowd

J. Geils Band, Aerosmith still big hits in Hub

Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band belted out a tune last night. Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band belted out a tune last night. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / August 15, 2010

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They easily could have coasted on their legacies, and it still would have been a night to remember simply for the spectacle of seeing two pillars of Boston rock on the same bill last night. If that weren’t enough, they played at one of the city’s most hallowed spaces: Fenway Park.

Instead, Aerosmith and the J. Geils Band wrote a new chapter of Boston’s rock history with performances that resurrected the verve and wattage of their halcyon days. If it was a nostalgia trip for the sold-out hometown crowd, it certainly didn’t feel like just another show for either band.

First up was the J. Geils Band, which, as front man Peter Wolf noted, is not a touring act anymore. These guys reunite sporadically, making their chemistry and synchronicity all that more remarkable. They eased into their set, finding their footing before Wolf finally caught fire and cast a spell. He occasionally barreled into the crowd — and, at least once, into the open arms of an ecstatic blonde — and proved that he can still twist words into taffy with his jive talking.

Amid the anthems (“Centerfold,’’ “Love Stinks’’), the band also paid homage to its early R&B and blues influences, from the opening “First I Look at the Purse’’ to “Cruisin’ for a Love,’’ with Magic Dick leading the charge on harmonica. Like a line drive, “Detroit Breakdown’’ was particularly lean and charged.

The significance of headlining Fenway wasn’t lost on Aerosmith. An opening video, narrated by Denis Leary, humorously linked the band’s Boston origins to Red Sox history (including that fateful day when guitarist Joe Perry supposedly got traded to the Cardinals).

No matter what you’ve heard about their interpersonal issues, these guys still shoot sparks onstage. When Steven Tyler draped his arm over Perry during “Cryin’ ’’ and hugged drummer Joey Kramer during his solo set, genuine camaraderie radiated.

Perry had his own moment in the spotlight when he battled the animated version of himself from the video game “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith.’’ In a huge misstep, Perry then brought out his guitar-slinging sons to join him on a bluesy rocker, effectively killing the momentum.

“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’’ didn’t exactly send the mercury rising, but a rare performance of the Beatles’ “Come Together,’’ which Aerosmith recorded in the ’70s, lifted spirits again. A smoldering version of “Baby, Please Don’t Go’’ had Tyler writhing on the floor as Perry coaxed feedback from his guitar, holding it up to the amp as if he were sacrificing it.

Aerosmith knew how to make the most of the setting, too. For the encore, a spotlight roamed the crowd until it finally found Tyler perched on top of the Green Monster. Alone at the piano, he played a gorgeous and affecting version of “Dream On.’’

When “Walk This Way’’ wrapped up the show, there was a pang of disappointment that Aerosmith and J. Geils didn’t perform together. Instead, Tyler offered his gratitude to the city that birthed his band: “Boston, you gave us the guts to go out and eat the world, and we did.’’

Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents warmed up the stage with a lively set indebted to the 1960s, from the Brill Building to Motown. And because they opened the show, they had the distinction of being the first Boston band to play at Fenway. Jenny Dee’s greeting couldn’t have come from anywhere else, either: “We’re wicked happy to be he’ah!’’

James Reed can be reached at