Black Joe Lewis Lee's Palace, Toronto ON, September 19
Published Sep 20, 2013It wasn't long ago that a Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears show was a more formal affair, with the band in matching suits in keeping with the classic R&B themes that established the group's reputation.
That's all changed this year with Lewis's third album, Electric Slave, released under his name only, a pounding punk-soul opus that seems a deliberate break with the past. That was evident when the Austin, TX singer-guitarist and his five-piece backing group took the stage with little fanfare, wearing the same clothes they rolled into town with, and tore into "The Hipster," a stinging rebuke of bandwagon jumpers and those who have attempted to wrap Lewis himself in a convenient package.
As if to drive the latter point home, he ended the tune with a gloriously awkward Hendrix-ian moment of guitar cunnilingus that set an anything-goes tone for the bulk of the two-hour set. Nearly all of Electric Slave was performed, with tracks like "My Blood Ain't Running Right," "Dar es Salaam" and "Skulldiggin" coming across just as powerfully as they do on the record. Much of the credit for that has to go to the three-piece horn section of Jason Frey, Derek Phelps and Joseph Woullard, whose bottom-end support allowed Lewis to engage in further guitar hero antics, while recreating the necessary James Brown vibe for "Come To My Party" and the Screaming Jay Hawkins drama for "Vampire."
By the time Lewis starting digging back into his previous two albums for "I'm Broke" and "Big Booty Woman," most of the near-capacity room was boogie-ing with abandon and didn't let up until a sweat-drenched Lewis abruptly exited after a rousing "Young Girls."
He was summoned back to chants for "Booty City," from 2011's Scandalous, and couldn't resist throwing in a few bars of the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" for seemingly no other reason than that the unhinged atmosphere demanded it. Another encore came, featuring a run-through of Junior Wells' "You Don't Love Me," after which trumpet player Phelps played a few soothing bars to finally close the show. It was the only way to convince the crowd to go home, but no one was complaining that Lewis and company didn't leave everything they had on the stage.