Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears at the Cedar, 4/3/11

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
April 3, 2011
Cedar Cultural Center

If I could only say one word about the Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears show, it would be "AWESOME." My faith in funk was restored; my passion for garage punk was reignited. Black Joe Lewis and his tight band of six, touring their new double LP Scandalous, brought their unique punk-infused funk to Minnesota for the first time to a sold-out Cedar crowd -- a mere weeks after blowing many away in Lewis' hometown Austin, Texas during SXSW.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears kicked off their show with New York Dolls-inspired raucous punk riffs, punctuated by the killer '70s classic three-piece horn section. Most of Black Joe Lewis influences are old-school - in addition to the New York Dolls inspiration, the Stooges are a touchstone, as are old country bluesmen the likes of Bo Diddley and Sonny Boy Williamson. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears have toured with the New York Dolls, as well as great Mississippi blues duo Cedric Burnside (grandson of R. L.) and Lightnin' Malcolm.

As the first song's choruses lowered to a whisper, the visceral high-energy Honeybears took it to the floor literally, bringing it back up dramatically with a full-on funky dance assault on the ears and feet. The horn players had excellent chemistry and choreography that was a blast to watch. Guitarist Zack Ernst stalked, strutted and danced campily as Black Joe Lewis right-hand man, while bass-player, Bill Stevenson kept everything funky like Bootsy on the left side. They performed against a large-screen backdrop of black-and-white found film clips of music, movies, boxing matches and news clips.

The Honeybears, clad in white shirts and black ties and pants were a tremendous super-tight team for Black Joe Lewis's wailing and shouting while shredding - no small feat. His songs ranged from raucous to sordid tales of hard times, cheating, lying and the state of the world such as on the politically-charged "You've Been Lyin'." The entire house was shaking, dancing, smiling, and shouting, especially to the raunchy boogie fun of "Black Snake."

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears at the Cedar, 4/3/11
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears at the Cedar, 4/3/11
Photos by Steve Cohen

Lewis's vocals, especially on "I'm Broke," made it feel as though "the hardest working man in show-business" spirit was alive and in the house. The chunky guitars, funky bass, sweet horn melodies and intervals, Curtis Mayfield-esque drums were all viscerally laying down a powerful urgency to the songs.

"Messin'" a slow creeping song sounding like it was born out of a Mississippi swamp, illustrated Lewis's  vocals and guitar skills channeling the '20s and '30s old country blues inspirations.

Things were wild on stage as the bandmates danced with their instruments and at one point into each others -  such as in the case of guitarist Ernst's head, into Lewis's guitar - yet never missing a beat. At one point the horn section became a percussion section, at another, bass-player Stevenson stomped out piano riffs with his foot while while playing the bass. The "Scandalous" show was an excellent mix of the '70s-style choreographed execution with punk unpredictably.

Near the end, Lewis went further into garage-rock feedback territories, then laying his guitar down to hum solo as they took a short break. "Booty City," a fun, rebel-rouser of the new record, kicked off their three-song encore with a big bang. They ended with the superfun, superfunky "Sugarfoot," replete with James Brown funk and story-shouting and yells and screams.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears at the Cedar, 4/3/11
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears at the Cedar, 4/3/11
Photos by Steve Cohen

Personal Bias: I missed seeing them at SXSW, but heard about them everywhere I turned, and saw "Scandalous," released March 15, 2011 was #1 at Austin's Waterloo Records. Seeing them in Minneapolis was an opportunity not-to-be-missed.
The Crowd: Standing-room only, smiling, screaming and shaking their booties like crazy, making lamps and whatever else wasn't nailed down shake, too.  
Overheard in the crowd: A friend singing "It's a Man's World" lyrics to a James Brown sounding song - that were a great fit.
Random Notebook Dump: The live show was even more awesome than the record, which is saying a LOT. Marrying a few of my favorite styles of music - punk and funk and deep blues? Amazing. I didn't quite expect these young guys to capture that old country blues sound so authentically.
For more photos: See our full slieshow by Steve Cohen.

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