Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears – Middle East, Cambridge (24 Feb 2017)

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears rocked the Middle East like a controlled demolition Friday night with their special blend of funk, garage rock and sweet, dirty blues.

Founded in Austin, Texas, the band has been bringing down houses since 2005. Their latest album, ‘Backlash’, was released 10 February 2017 via INgroove Music Group, and opened at number three in the Billboard Top Blues Album chart.

The show put on by Joe Lewis and his backing band was not your average gig. It wasn’t a show where you could go to and be a passive bystander, nursing your beer at the bar — if that’s your modus operandi. Everything about their easy atmosphere pulled you in, from their brotherly interactions on stage – grasping hands, blowing kisses – to the green bottle of Laphroaig scotch nestled front of the drum kit. Their infectious smiles caught across the room like the season’s latest flu.

During the set up, the band warmed up with some classic Hendrix tunes, and they continued the throwback feel with tracks like ‘Livin in the Jungle’. The slapping bass line and lowing saxophones intermingled perfectly with Lewis’s powerful vocals. He screamed into the mic as if he’d been taken by the devil.

Fresh tracks from ‘Backlash’ felt distinctive from much of the rest of the band’s work. It felt a little more rock ‘n’ roll in some places, a little more ‘70s jam band in others (see ‘Maroon’). In songs like ‘Sexual Tension’ and ‘PTP’, Lewis’s heavy-handed strumming set the mood and alternating, powerhouse sax solos filled the gaps in your soul.

The sold-out crowd reflected the band’s never-ending energy. From the token guy clapping furiously off-tempo in the front, to the odd cowboy in the back, everyone got into the groove as each musician played his instrument like his favourite lover’s body.

Lewis and the Honeybears played with everything they had. At the dancing feet of the two saxophonists was a scattering of percussive instruments, including a tambourine, maracas, and a cow bell. By the end of the set, the keyboardist was even dragging his skull across the keys, the noise like speaking in Pentecostal tongues.

They played for just over two hours, ending with three encores catering to the crowing of the crowd. Lewis commented he’d never heard such demand for them to continue. The bassist turned to him and laughed, “welcome to Boston.”

Their final song of the night starts with a line often yelled by various members of the sold-out audience. “Bitch, I Love You,” wasn’t just a call out to one of the swingin’ musicians on stage; it’s arguably one of the most honest love songs you’ll ever hear.

(‘Bitch, I love you / I don’t know just why / Bitch has done me wrong / But now baby, / That’s why you got me / Singin’ my song.’)

Black Joe Lewis

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