An abbreviated User’s Guide to a Black Joe Lewis Concert: casually dance to the beat; ignore the incredibly suggestive lyrics; repeat for the duration of the concert.
Bluesy funk group Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears made it out to the High Noon Saloon Wednesday night, delivering a soulful performance that had the crowd swingin’. The Start-up out of Austin, Texas, blends the classic genres of soul, jazz and R&B to deliver gritty melodies with abrasive rhythm. Heavily relying on saxophones, trumpets, guitars and drums, Black Joe Lewis plays with a dignified sense of rhythm. The incorporation of said instruments delivers a velvety quality to each song that contrasts with the vocalist’s gravelly cry. The beat of the drums, the calculated screech of the trumpet and the hearty roar of the saxophone all manage to smoothly coalesce with Joe’s ragged vocals and provocative lyrics. The instrumentalists behind him managed to maintain composure, allowing for a cohesive performance in spite of Joe’s haphazard exclamation of lyrics.
Opening up for the main act was indie rock band Pickwick, whose performance featured canorous vocals from lead singer Galen Disston. While the main allure of Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears is the band’s bold incorporation of instruments, Pickwick succeeds in doing exactly the opposite. Disston’s voice shines in the forefront, so that all instrumental elements serve as melodic background music to his animatedly-pronounced lyrics. Their sound, while now generally classified as indie rock, initially carried more folk-like influences. Pickwick has since broadened its fanbase with the decision to switch up its sound to something more reminiscent of The Black Keys. Pickwick consequently made headway in their hometown of Seattle, where their album Myths quickly became one of the top-selling albums in the city. The group has recently performed to sold-out venues in Seattle and is set to accompany an increasing number of indie groups in their tours this year.
Both Black Joe Lewis and Pickwick have similarly eccentric lyrics. In perhaps Black Joe Lewis’s most popular song ,“Sugarfoot,” the band sings out, “Straight up to my bedroom we go / starts doing things I’d never know.” These racy themes that run through the majority of the group’s songs are easily overlooked, thanks to the jittery manner in which Lewis rasps them out. He belts them out in such a way that makes it difficult to understand what he’s saying.
The themes that run through Pickwick songs are just as interesting, yet much more cryptic: “Your voice was sweet / no more drinking / you were selling me out.” The ambiguity prevalent in Pickwick lyrics allows for a looser, more artistic interpretation than Black Joe Lewis’s blunt “baby… give me love.” But it’s fine. The hearty tune of the saxophone covers up Lewis’ vocals.
Amusing lyrics aside, the High Noon Saloon housed a talented bunch of musicians Wednesday night. Lead vocalist of Pickwick captivated the crowd with his distinctive harmony and Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears entranced with an impressive medley of instrumentals. The marked contrast in styles between the two bands resulted in a solid string of soulful tunes.
Final tip in the User’s Guide: pay no attention to what Black Joe Lewis is saying; it’s all about the sax.