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MUSIC | Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears drip sweetness at the Cedar Cultural Center
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears were one of my first and favorite discoveries at SXSW in 2009, but with an Austin band playing at SXSW you always wonder what their draw is outside of the festival and their hometown. Just over two years later, I got my answer loud and clear.
Playing his first headlining performance in Minnesota (he opened for the Dave Matthews Band at the Xcel Energy Center last September), Black Joe Lewis led his band the Honeybears through one of the more raucous shows I have seen at the Cedar since Robert Randolph and the Family Band's local debut there nearly a decade ago.
Joe is definitely not a man of many words; the only ones I remember him saying were, "It's nearly 90 degrees in Austin right now, people are wearing shorts, but we're glad to be here." The band's 100-minute set started out a bit rough, but after three or four songs they hit their stride and peaked at just the right time. The last 30 minutes of the show were nonstop sweat and energy, which the audience ate up. The band ran through a good mix of songs from their debut album Tell 'Em What Your Name Is (2009) and their brand new 2011 album Scandalous. Black Joe Lewis's mixture of blues and rock is hardly groundbreaking, but his energy and talent level is clearly enough to see why he's garnered the attention he has lately.
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears often get unfairly lumped in with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings due to the fact that they're both throwback bands (the fact that Black Joe Lewis is opening for Jones this spring doesn't help), but their music is actually quite different. While Sharon and the Dap-Kings dabble mostly in soul, funk, and R&B, the Honeybears are much more rooted in the blues with a good mixture of rock and soul thrown in. If i had to make one small gripe, it's that the Honeybears' songs are much more similar across their catalog than the Dap-Kings' are, making Black Joe Lewis a bit less interesting on record than Sharon Jones is. Thankfully, the passion in his live performance more than makes up for any musical sameness.
It wasn't all that surprising to me that the two songs that garnered the biggest cheers were "Sugarfoot," off the band's debut, and "Booty City" (I find this song super cheesy and sort of lame on the album, but it came off incredibly fun live) off their latest album, both of which have been played quite a bit on The Current. If it weren't for their upcoming show opening for Sharon Jones in May, I would say their next local stop will definitely be headlining First Avenue, so maybe we'll just have to wait until the fall to see that comes true.
Opening the show were the Tennessee 4-piece Those Darlins, who had just released their new album Screws Get Loose the previous Tuesday. I had seen them twice before, the first of which was opening for Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys at First Avenue a couple years back, and while I enjoyed both of their previous shows, their simplistic tongue-in-cheek songs have never really stuck with me too much on record. (See Jay Gabler's review of their February gig opening for the Old 97s at First Avenue.)
Thankfully, what Those Darlins might lack in songwriting prowess, they more than make up for in energy and stage presence, and I felt their musicianship has seen a big improvement over the last two years. Their 30-minute opening set was a perfect high-energy and fun match for the Honeybears, and it seemed like most of the audience enjoyed it as well. The only gripe I have about their all-too-brief set is that i couldn't help but think how much more fun and crazy it would have been at the Triple Rock or the 7th Street Entry, where their gritty rock would feel a bit more at home.
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
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©2011 Kyle Matteson (text) and Meredith Westin (photos)