BLACK JOE LEWIS at BLUEBIRD THEATER | 11/25/13 Last night's Black Joe Lewis show at Bluebird showed that the garage heavy sound all over the band's latest release, Electric Slave, sounds incredible live and has really rejuvenated old hits. Now that the group has dropped "and the Honeybears" from its moniker, there is a little more focus on Joe Lewis himself, namely his Hendrix-like guitar skills and antics, and that insanely gorgeous distorted tone that he obtains sound checking his own guitar before the crowd.
For a Monday night, the place was jumping, with many people clearly starting to celebrate the holidays early, and there were more than a few hoots and hollers any time Lewis said "Austin, TX". Gone are the days of matching suits; baritone sax player Joseph Woullard was in a particularly dapper hand-woven shirt, and Lewis was in rigid dark jeans and cowboy boots.
The new single, "Come to My Party," was met with a roar of approval as people immediately started to get down to the forceful beat by drummer Eduardo Torres. As the outfit played old favorite "Booty City," Lewis employed a wall of heavy droning throughout it, giving the funky number a grander and almost sinister tone.
The band played a lot of new material, and the audience seemed to know it all, with things getting far more psychedelic and interesting in person. As reverb-drenched waves of sound came from the amplifiers, Lewis and bassist Bill Stevenson went head to head to see who could create more noise; at one point in the show, the two were even horse playing and knocking each other around the stage.
Black Joe Lewis's background is in the blues, and the act's blues material sounds even better these days with his cranked-to-ten rougher tone. Palm muting power chords created a screeching, percussive rhythm, while the horns blared and the lead man screamed. Tenor sax Jason Frey multi-tasked, playing tambourine and cowbell as well as tearing it up repeatedly in a double-brass assault with Woullard.
Special guest Uncle Dan came and played some distorted blues harmonica, making an already huge sound so thick it was almost tangible. While all of this is going on, Stevenson showed his limber prowess and did a couple splits, never missing a beat or splitting his jeans.
There has been much talk about how Lewis is a modern cross of James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, and if you didn't hear it, he really made this assertion loud and clear, playing his guitar with his teeth, then tossing it to the ground as exited the stage. He doesn't come off as derivative, but he does ooze as much cool, soul and talent as the legends. As the band played its biggest hit "Sugarfoot," it sounded like the strumming pattern had been doubled, especially evident when the song drops to just the bass, and it was completely refreshing to hear.
As the night came to a close, Lewis told the audience "Spark it up, pass it up," which produced a couple billows of smoke and more than a few blue lights of vape pens, but alas, no joint was passed up to the stage. Earlier in the evening, Radkey opened the show, and its guitarist did some Jean-Claude Van Damme splits of his own. Some of the banter was hilarious, making you wonder if they were just young and sincere or if they were being tongue in cheek.
Personal Bias: As a former Austin resident, I've been rooting for this band for years. Random Detail: The NFL is playing "Come to My Party" on air a lot. I felt like they really made it when I heard it during the Texans game (only good part of the game, actually). By The Way: Women LOVE "Sugarfoot".
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