Black Joe Lewis @ Spaceland Ballroom, Hamden

Usually when going to a concert, I might listen to the band’s back catalogue just to make sure I know what I’m getting myself into. But in the case of Black Joe Lewis, there was no need to delve into his previous four full length albums; I had had a taste of the recorded Joe Lewis and I was not a fan. However his live performances were so recommended that I could not help but be curious enough to drive 40 minutes the Spaceland Ballroom to see what the fuss was about.

Before Black Joe Lewis took the stage, opening the show was Seattle band Pickwick. Although the they looked like a Northwest emo band from the mid-2000s, their sound was pure neo-soul heaven. Sounding like the Heavy without the horn section, Pickwick won over the audience with ease. And just to solidify their emo look, the lead singer threw in some Taking Back Sunday-esque mic swinging.
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After Pickwick’s rousing performance, it wasn’t hard to get the audience riled up for Black Joe Lewis. Lead by the horn section, followed by the drummer and bassist, Joe Lewis took the stage. The tall and gangly Lewis repped his Austin roots with his collared shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots but what was most striking of his appearance was his all red guitar (even the fretboard was red)! With almost virtuosic mastery of the guitar, Joe Lewis led his band through a blazing set of his patented blues/soul hybrid.

While the crowd was dancing and getting down, Joe Lewis had an understated stage presence with little movement for the first half of the set. Midway through though the atmosphere began to change. During a guitar solo, his bass player hung from the rafters while kicking at Joe, who parried his blows while never missing a beat. At song’s end, Joe whispered something to his bass player. Shortly into the next track, the bassist hung from the rafters again this time only to land on Lewis’ shoulders. While neither the bassist or Lewis could do much playing during this ordeal, they both seemed to enjoy it. Afterwards Lewis would say “we like to have fun”–an understatement.

The fun continued for the entire night complete with playing guitar with his teeth. Despite Black Joe Lewis saying “when we’re done, we’re done. We ain’t doing any fucking encores.” They did an encore after gratuitous amounts of cheering and cat calls.

The performance made me reconsider Joe Lewis’ recorded output. Going back and listening to tracks like the James Brown inspired “Sugarfoot” or the slow burning “Vampire,” they sounded better with the reference point of having heard them live. Understanding the kind of musical chops and that Joe Lewis and company possess truly converted me.
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