New Years Eve in Austin is generally referred to as amateur night, due to the packs of Jagerbomb-happy frat boys stumbling from bar to bar. The Mohawk is safely tucked away on Red River, a couple of blocks from the mayhem, giving the hipsters a little Lonestar-filled Oasis.
It does catch you off guard that Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears are a band of soul-hungry young men emitting a sound that’s almost straight from Motown. Even more perplexing is that the kids seem to like it.
Even when opening for Spoon earlier in the year, they seemed to take the crowd over. Last week, the weather was frigid and the show was outside, leaving everyone to dance or to huddle under the portable heaters, or to join in on the rendition of Clifton Chenier’s “Hot Tamale Baby” the band yelped off from the first note. The band gives off a hint of Ben Folds style piano pop with the regular Motown sound, if there is such a thing. Black Joe is complimented by his roaring band, The Honeybears, who are equipped with saxes, driving guitar and a touch of electro.
“Prison Song” brought soul-happy Joe Lewis to his knees. It’s refreshing to catch the hipster set ecstatic over du-wop that can hold a candle to the Bar-Kays’ “Humpin”. It’s also refreshing to hear this stuff from a group that’s youthful.
Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears seem to stand alone in the current indie landscape. It’s not that they mainline directly back to the days of Motown; they’ve got an electric bent that feels fresh. Either way, they’ve got that manipulative power over a crowd that goes with being a disciple of anything James Brown: they knew, for instance, to end their set with the song “Please”, and the soul-crunching plea brought down the house, definitively clearing the way for a little soul in Austin.