Black Joe Lewis probably isn’t that sick of the James Brown and Wilson Pickett comparisons yet (I mean, what a compliment, right?) But it’s inaccurate to portray Black Joe and the Honeybears as a 21st century version of the Godfather’s JBs. They’re more a rock band with a serious Stax problem, or a punk band riding a soul train, or a garage band with blaster horns, on an R&B mission. Really, they’re all those things, not to mention the arrival of one of the most commanding new frontmen in ages.
As the story goes, Austinite Joe Lewis was working in a pawnshop when he started fooling around on guitar, eventually picking up gigs with a blues trio. He met guitarist Zach Ernst and the (now) seven-piece Honeybears were born, initially as an opener for Little Richard, then as a hot-shit regional band in the Austin area, and then, thanks to hugely buzzed about performances at Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits in 2008, then SxSW in 2009, a national act.
The buzz is justified: the band takes the stage and wallops an audience with an almost brutal mix of garage rock, blues-punk, hot-skillet soul and pummeling energy, and does so with a refreshing lack of slickness. The sense of abandon is key to their appeal: they’re not all too polished and they don’t feel like a band hatched in a soul studio with meticulous attention paid by producers. If Joe didn’t already have a moniker, Smokin’ Joe would fit.
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In the realm of the modern day jam band, Umphrey’s McGee is a unique species to that kingdom. With unreal jam ability and non-stop touring, Umphrey’s has made their mark over the past decade as one of the most fan-devoted bands that knows no limits and truly lives for the music. Saturday night, fans were medicated with a high dosage of Umph as the Chicago-based sextet came back to the Electric Factory in Philly for an intimate show.