With every music writer in America comparing Black Joe Lewis to shout-it-out soul idols Wilson Pickett and James Brown himself, I expected last night's show at Off Broadway to be all about the man and his vocals. Instead, Lewis made it all about his band, the Honeybears, and its big-ass garage soul sound.
Hacienda, a four-piece out of San Antonio, Texas, jump-started the night with the kind of energy, musicianship and throwback attitude the crowd wanted from a Black Joe Lewis show. The combo played '60s-style surf rock with Dante Schwebel's enthusiastic and excellent guitar-work forming the centerpiece of the sound. (Full disclosure: I was standing right in front of the guitarist and his speaker, so it definitely seemed from there that it was all about the guitar.) Championed by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys since early in its career, this family act of cousins and brothers makes updated references to the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Chan Romero. There's a reason that music persists - Hacienda put on an engaged, unpretentious set that had people dancing. Plus, bassist/vocalist Rene Villanueva looked and moved like Lou Diamond Phillips in an Elvis biopic.
The evening kicked up a torrential downpour that may have delayed some concert-goers, but by the time Hacienda finished, the room was packed in and primed. The seven-piece out of Austin took the stage modestly, Black Joe Lewis in a black T-shirt and black pants and nearly all the other members in crisp white shirts and glasses. Picking up a guitar taped up with photos of half-naked ladies, Lewis and the band immediately launched into a multi-layered groove. From then on, the music didn't stop; it merely paused between snatches which referenced -- and then subverted -- classic R&B, funk, soul and rock riffs, such as the Bar-Kays' 1967 essential "Soul Finger."