Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears @ La Sala Rossa – February 27th, 2017

This Monday, two CJLO contributors, Genaro Peña Cruz and Paul Brown, had the chance to see Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears as they performed at La Sala Rossa, as part of the Montréal en Lumière festival going on until March 11. Here’s the story of one single show, told by two different music lovers.


Genaro Peña Cruz’s story

I gotta say—this week started on a pretty a solid note. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears are currently on tour promoting their latest record, Backlash, and on Monday night, they performed at La Sala Rossa. The Austin-based septet can gather an audience on a weeknight and play a string of songs—packed with infectious grooves—that will get them hooked.

The opening act Dams of the West delivered an energetic performance that featured some easy listening and indie power rock tunes. They were the perfect warm up before the headliner. Come around 10:30 p.m., Joe Lewis and the boys took the stage. No hype, no nonsense beforehand. They immediately kicked off with “PTP,” the lead single from their new album, and it manifested itself as a headbanger anthem. Everyone was on their feet, sinking their teeth into the song.

As the evening progressed, they played many of their new songs: “Wasted” showcased Lewis’ powerful range as a frontman in this upbeat ballad, with a combination of James Brown’s vocals and Jimi Hendrix’s showmanship. It also featured transverse flute parts that added lots of texture to the song, beautifully complementing the vocals. “Golem” highlighted the funkadelic influence in the band’s sound and put the audience back on the dance track.

Despite the band played many songs from the new album, the set was well balanced—the oldies were there and they keep sounding better over time when performed live. “Young Girls” sounded like a call for rebellion à la Stooges, with Lewis playing guitar with his teeth—need I say more?

“Mudslide” is a rockabilly tune straight out of the Little Richard era. The band transferred its energy from the stage to the floor, making it feel as if we were in a 1950s high school dance doing the boogie (with cellphones). A hot mess indeed.

What was probably the most fun to watch was how in tune these guys were with each other. Watching them live, their musicianship and their symbiotic relationship became evident— while Lewis unapologetically played funky licks, the rest of the band jived with style and grace; “Big Booty Woman” featured duelling solos between guitar and saxophone, while the rhythm section provided steady grooves that made it hard to not strut. The collective spirit on stage was infectious, and hit everyone on the floor.

After 20-plus songs and two hours later, the crowd was still yearning for more—the band quickly came back on stage for a second encore. Now, I’m not a huge fan of encores, but honestly, I still had an appetite, and I’m glad they came back because it was definitely the pièce de résistance of the concert. They broke into an extended blues jam, and segued into “Bitch, I Love You.” It was the perfect song to close the evening. Calculated move? Who cares. It was badass. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears have songs for days and they delivered a mixed setlist to a crowd who wanted to shake off the Monday funk. A-thank you!


Paul Brown’s story

On the way to the venue, I was a little worried after seeing the disappointing numbers of attendees on the Facebook event page. How could such a great band not be making more waves than this, especially after so many great local shows over the years, including such high profile opening slots for The New York Dolls and Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings? Seeing three middle-aged men trying to hock one ticket outside the front door did not ease my mind.

Upon entering Sala Rossa and seeing a packed room, however, several things became abundantly clear: (a) Facebook is not some all knowing oracle dispensing the truth for all who look upon it, (b) it had been far too long since I had seen a show at this majestic venue, and most importantly, (c) great music will always be found by music lovers.

Spending so much time going to überhyped shows—many times highly unwarranted, I might add—as well as living partially in the arrested development world of campus life, it is sometimes easy to forget that there was a time before social media. It was refreshing to see a packed house full of people who did not feel constantly compelled to share with the digital world what they were doing on this particular Monday night. The mixed crowd seemed to have found this band through different means, yet we all came to the same conclusion, one that bridged any gender or age gap that might have existed in the room: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears are simply one of the greatest bands touring today.

The love in the room was almost palpable and with a brand new album, Backlash, released just two weeks prior, the excitement level was high. It had been a few years since their last show in Montreal, and everyone was ready to get down. At 10:30 p.m., the seven members strode onto the stage, took their places, and immediately launched into a house-rockin’ version of the latest single, “PTP." The frenzied pace of the opening song bled right into the next one, “Freakin’ Out”, but quickly gave way to the pleading soul of “Wasted.” This ebb and flow of the speed with which the band would deliver their brand of music would continue for the next two hours, with more emphasis on the up than the down.

The ease with which the band slipped between R&B rave-ups, gutbucket blues, and heart wrenching soul is a testament to all the years spent on the road and playing around their hometown of Austin, Texas. Yes, some members may have changed over the years—and they even dropped the Honeybears name for an album—but the core remained. As long as they are led by Black Joe Lewis, the spirit will always be there.

A truly great frontman who has never allowed himself to be pidgeon holed into any specific categories or genres—he’s as much punk as he is anything—Lewis has always oozed confidence on stage. But this time, it also appeared that he has found an inner peace with being the leader, much like Bruce Springsteen with the E Street Band. There is no question as to who is the boss, and therefore the music can become the sole focus of every member of the group. Throughout the show, he also pulled out many classic Texas showman tricks, like playing his guitar with his teeth during “Golem” or the sax vs. guitar duel with tenor sax player Jason Frey during “Hipster.” This only proved that he is just as interested in having fun as playing great music.

Without much banter with the crowd, the setlist was a perfect blend of the new album—with 10 of the 11 songs making the cut—and old favorites like “Come To My Party”, “Sugarfoot” and a medley of “Livin’ In The Jungle” and “Booty City” (which I’m pretty sure is the song during when a bra was thrown on stage). It would have been hard to tell the difference to which ones were old and which were brand new, by the reaction from the crowd.

To bring this amorous night of sweaty rock ‘n’ roll to an end, the band returned to the stage for an encore of erotically charged anthems; first an ode to Joe’s preferred type, “Big Booty Woman,” followed by his tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek love song, “Bitch, I Love You.” It was the perfect ending to the party, and with that the crowd made their way to the exit, ecstatic and exhausted. The band had given us all we could handle, and we can only hope that it will not be another three years before they give it to us all over again.