Playing in front of movie-screen images of Muhammad Ali, Bo Diddley, Screaming Jay Hawkins and numerous other African American heroes, Texas’ hottest new hot-shot boogie king Black Joe Lewis did not shy away from greatness Sunday night at the Cedar Cultural Center. Nor should he have -- at least not when he’s playing with as well-oiled, bone-rattling a band as his horn-blaring septet the Honeybears. Their first local club gig was an astounding, nonstop, nearly two-hour grindathon. And a reassuring sign that word-of-mouth still counts for something, it sold out just before showtime.
It took a few songs for the set to really get ablazing -- a hard-stomping cover of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” did the trick. After that came the dirt-scraping title track of the band’s new album, “Scandalous,” and just a half-hour in, fans were stripping down to their T-shirts and flamboyantly slapping each other on the butts in time to the music (two very straight-looking men, in the latter case). For a taste of the hard-slapping vibe, click here for a Youtube clip already up from the show.
As a frontman, Lewis is neither very personable nor animated. He’s not even much of a singer, with shouting being his best delivery. But he is a terrific, firebrand guitarist. Best of all, on Sunday he just seemed to have the right mix of attitude and energy, maintaining a cocky smile throughout the show and coming off Sly Stone-like in the way he let his band talk for him. And man, did they scream with delight later in the show as they went from the Louisiana workout standard “Hot Tamale Baby” straight into their own rocking hit, “Booty City.” Their other radio track, 2009’s “Sugarfoot,” was saved for an over encore. The show’s finale felt more just like the beginning, though. Assuming the word-of-mouth continues, these guys should be packing First Ave by year’s end.
Tennessee-reared openers Those Darlins have already been to First Ave and several more local clubs on bills with other bands, and Sunday’s set proved they’re on the verge of becoming their own headliner. Some of the best tunes the three-quarters-female twang-punk quartet had to offer were from their just-issued sophomore album, “Screws Get Loose,” including the catchy, winking title track and the would-be tomboy anthem “Be Your Bro.” “I may have girly parts, but I got a boy’s heart,” the Darlins sang. Priceless on several levels.