Though there were other artists booked for last night’s Mountain Stage concert, I went for one man: Black Joe Lewis. Well, one man and his seven bandmates.
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears are an eight-piece “garage-soul” ensemble from Austin, Texas. As I said when I reviewed their album Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is, their music is “the kind of guttural, robust, bluesy soul of James Brown and Screaming Jay Hawkins, rough edged with a very modern sense of humor and garage instrumentation.”
Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is will certainly be near if not on the top of my year end list, but not even such a brilliant recording can compare to what it was like seeing these guys perform live.
Actress turned singer and Judy Collins protégé Amy Speace opened the show. She’s a singer-songwriter of the Joan Baez or Dar Williams variety. I would say of the other non-Joe performers, I enjoyed her set the most.
The Proclaimers followed with heavily accented harmonies. The Scottish twins are best known for what they endearingly admitted was their only hit “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” The Benny & Joon theme closed their segment of the show. Their performance – which bordered on novelty – was tolerable for a short set, but would grate on my nerves for a full concert.
Contemporary classical group Cordis was a pleasant surprise. Featuring West Virginia native and electric cimbalom player Rick Grimes, the band mixes lovely chamber melodies and upbeat rock instrumentals.
And then they took the stage, all eight of ’em: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. They immediately started blaring out songs from Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is, the highlights being “Sugarfoot” and “Bobby Booshay.” While the production of their studio album seems to emphasis the soul side of the band’s style more than the garage, it was the noisy rock of Joe’s guitar that was most apparent in the live show. The entire band was loud, energetic, and awesome. Young and old audience members alike were tappin’ their feet and bobbin’ their heads along with the beat.
Former Men at Work frontman Colin Hay was granted the final slot of the night. Hay was very personable between songs and his simple acoustic tunes sound much better live than on his studio albums, but such a low key set would’ve fit better at the beginning of the concert. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears unquestionably stole the show.
Sadly, Joe himself elected not to join in the group finale. But the horn section of The Honeybears returned to the stage with the other artists to cover The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
Black Joe Lewis – Sugarfoot (audio stream)