The inescapable effects of live music assailed the seated crowd of Campbell Hall last Thursday with the vintage and refreshing sounds of Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. With their combination of soul and funk, wrapped up in true rock and roll attitude, the band delivered a loud, high-energy performance to the diverse audience in attendance.
To kick off Arts & Lectures’ Blues Session series, Joe Lewis, a front man with vocal prowess reminiscent of James Brown and Little Richard, began the set with the grit and attitude of a man who has played many a dive bar in Austin, Texas. Lewis approached his guitar work aggressively, playing with his teeth at various times, and positioning his guitar in the face of the amp to buzz the crowd with feedback. The Honeybears, consisting of a three-piece brass section, drums and bass, kept the grooves soulful and funky while Black Joe screamed and wailed behind his licks.
About halfway through the set the band played their most recognizable song, “Bitch, I Love You,” which was accompanied by solos from Lewis’ guitar and each piece of the brass section. Towards the end of the barrage of soloing, a handful of the audience were up and shuffling to the rocking sounds. At this point Black Joe lifted his right hand and squinted at the crowd.
“Man, it’s so dark in here I can’t see ya’ll,” Lewis said. “I can’t tell if you’re dancin’.” After seeing the band play a few songs and getting the feel of the type of energy the band fed off of, I was afraid that the seated crowd of Campbell Hall might just sink their morale.
The group followed up with more songs of promiscuity and deceit with songs such as “Get Yo Shit” and “Booty City,” a song focusing on what one man loves the most in this world … booty. As the music continued to make people convulse in their seats, a few in the crowd became restless beyond abandon. A couple, filled with the night’s funk and soul vibes, could contain their feet no longer and flew down the aisle toward the front of the stage to dance and acknowledge the band’s killer music. However, they were quickly ushered back to their seats by an attendant.
“You want to party but they won’t let you,” Lewis said to the courageous duo. “I thought this was college — shit!”
The breaking point began as the band played “She’s So Scandalous.” With a groovy drum intro and Black Joe’s smooth guitar licks, the crowd could no longer remain in their seats. Members of the crowd, both young and old, either grabbed the person next to them or grooved with themselves as the band continued rocking the house.
As the encore approached, a crowd formed in front of the stage where the funky dance duo had earlier been rushed away from. Nearly everyone had gotten up from their seats and began moving to the shaking sounds. The band had become so thrilled to see bodies moving wildly to their music for the first time that they quickly ditched their positions on stage and joined the crowd while playing the encore.
Although Campbell Hall may have been restrictive for the audience, which hindered the energy directed at the band, the powerful sounds of Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears overcame all and turned what began as a quiet, motionless and somewhat awkward crowd into a rejuvenated throng of funk-rock nostalgia.