On paper, it doesn’t look like Texas’ hard-grooving blues rocker Black Joe Lewis and Minnesota’s bubbly R&B-tinged singer/songwriter Caroline Smith have much in common. In concert together at the Minnesota Zoo amphitheater on Thursday night, though, they showed at least one common bond: Both sang about getting it on. You know, the Love Thang. The hokey-pokey. Hay-rolling. Or in zoo speak: mating.
Lewis seemed to have a sexual undercurrent through much of his 90-minute set, from the remake of the obscure disco-era tune “Sitting on a Red Hot Stove” to his funky shout-out anthem “Booty City” to (gulp) “Young Girls,” actually an ode to older women. Smith was much more overt about it when she got around to singing a cover of Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Making Love.”
“You guys, we’re in a zoo!” Smith yelled while urging the crowd to sing along to Flack’s animalistic urge. “Think about what’s going on all around us. We’re not any different.”
Thursday’s gig was the first hometown set this year by Smith and her sturdy band, who have been putting in a lot of road tour dates but also now have HazelFest coming up Aug. 1. They came off like a well-honed road act, too, turning in a Show with a capital-S -- one that came off a little shticky but did the trick in winning over a crowd that for the most part wasn’t their own.
Smith turned on the girls-vs.-boys attitude in “Buy Me Something” and then turned on the dance moves in the Lizzo-less “Let ‘Em Say.” She once again gave her bandmates -- including backup vocalist Mina Moore and keyboardist Eric Mayson -- a chance to show off their vocal skills and sing one verse apiece in “Half About Being a Woman,” still her most powerful song in concert. The most fun/showy part came during “Bloodstyle,” when she took requests for ‘90s/’00s R&B tunes that would fit over the song's groove, including “No Diggity,” “I Try,” “Bootylicious” and “Ms. Jackson.” They all fit in more ways than one.
Aside from playing his guitar with his teeth at the start of the show and rubbing it up against his amp at the end – paging James Marshall Hendrix – Lewis didn’t offer much in the showman department. He just plugged in and pressed “go,” playing one grinding rocker after another. Some were workouts for his three-man horn section, including “Come to My Party” early in the set and the encore rousers “Get High” and “You Been Lyin’.” Some were more showpieces for his raw, manic guitaring, including the slower-stewing “I’m Broke” and an almost punky update of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down.”
Lewis did all the guitar work himself, which lessened the oomph of several of the songs (prior tours were better served with a second axe man). But his band otherwise remained as tight as his bassist’s jeans looked on Thursday. They spiked the set with an extra fun cover, too: The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird,” another fine nod to the Minnesotan rock legends. Or was it a tribute to the amphitheater’s daytime headliners, the zoo bird show?