Black Joe Lewis could play a gig in a sub-freezing meat locker and by the time he and the Honeybears backing band got to the riotous party funk of “Booty City” the room would feel like a sauna. That’s how kinetic and overwhelming the Austinite’s blues/R&B/rock attack can be on any given night.
There was already a sauna-like atmosphere Thursday when Lewis took the stage inside the downtown warehouse at the Austin American-Statesman. The concert series between the paper and Bud Light brought a crowd of roughly 1,000 fans to the industrial space that had cooked in the day’s 100-plus-degree temperatures, meaning Lewis and his bandmates were pretty much dripping sweat from the moment they took the stage.
Lewis kicked off the roughly 100-minute set with “PTP,” the lead single from this year’s “Backlash” LP that found him retreating back into his familiar funk roots after the metallic tendencies of 2013’s “Electric Slave.” In what would become a regular and welcome bit of showmanship throughout the show, the live playing deviated from the standard compositions: “PTP” receiving long guitar and saxophone solos, “I’m Broke” played in a subdued and half-tempo fashion and a cover of The Rolling Stones’ blues hallmark “Stop Breaking Down” getting dueling guitar solos that Lewis punctuated by playing his electric guitar with his teeth.
The performance also saw Lewis trot out the piercing scream he used to punctuate high points throughout the night, and the band’s trusty saxophone players who add valuable tone and color standing out, although the makeshift venue’s cavernous qualities occasionally swallowed their sound whole.
The night’s closing run kicked off with a medley that saw the humorous breakup of “Get Yo (expletive)” interspersed with “Livin’ In The Jungle,” “Booty City” and “Bobby Booshay,” showing off the band’s ability to switch from psychedelic British-tinged blues to high-speed funk in a blink.
It’s somewhat pointless to wonder why Austin isn’t big enough for two world-conquering young blues heroes – Gary Clark Jr. being the head of the class, of sorts – but shows like Thursday make it hard to not mull the question. Lewis has a distinctive style and talent to get people moving that should make him an easy sell to wider audiences.
He did that for the entirety of the show Thursday, getting a crowd that was already caked with perspiration sweating just a little bit more.