Review: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears

Last week’s show at Bowery Ballroom sold out in advance, and looked that way inside even with a raging snowstorm fouling things up. Joe and the boys hit the stage at about 11:15 and stuck around for about an hour and a half, barreling through most of 2009’s great Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is and flexing muscles on a few choice covers, including the astutely selected Junior Wells nugget Snatch It Back and Hold It.

Like James Brown (OK, fine), Black Joe sings (not to mention plays guitar and occasional harp) with almost apocalyptic furor: stabby vowels, lots of “hoo” and “haa,” a mix of pleas and commands. The Honeybears, too, are a hoot, not only because they dance and sway on stage but also offer an inexhaustible supply of supple rhythms, corrosive guitar (from both Black Joe himself and Ernst), and horn parts that range from soothing to blatty, with the three-piece section sometimes there to color songs, sometimes there to own them.

The band has quite a range, too, from R&B party ragers like Sugarfoot to twisted love songs like Get Yo Shit, and none-too-subtle stokers like Big Black Snake and I’m Broke. At Bowery, a furious encore ended with crowd favorite Bitch I Love You but also included what I think was the Stooges’ Gimme Some Skin, either way a Stooges song and a bashed-out one at that. Raw power was the theme of the night – what Joe and the ‘bears lack in nuance, they make up for in fierceness – so it seemed more than appropriate.

Openers Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm cover much the same ground as North Mississippi Allstars, which is to say filthy-ass hill country blues jams full of stomp and drum clatter and plenty of squealing, fuzzed out guitar. They’re perhaps grittier than NMAS but lack their subtleties, too. Either way, I dug every minute of their raunchy set – and their greasy blues jam with the Honeybears about an hour later — even if their individual songs don’t so much have discernible flavor as they do searing heat.

Weather-related logistics meant missing early openers the Black Hollies – a shame, because the psyche-toned rockers are really gathering a head of steam and each time I’ve seen them has been a little more triumphant than the last. How long til they’re headlining Bowery on their own?

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