Joe Lewis alternated between sweating profusely into his harmonica and howling into the microphone, doubled over on the stage with the pain and joy of their fourth show of SXSW, as the white-shirted Honeybears -- minus keyboardist Ian Varley, who will join them for their fifth show tonight -- drove harder and harder into the chorus of Please Pt. Two. Drummer Matthew Strmska's glasses flew off towards the middle of nearly every song. And the crowd at Austin Music Hall stood transfixed by the hard rocking soul offered up by an unassuming dude in a red ballcap and a backup band of gangly white guys. In a sort of homage to rocking gangly white guys, they even covered a Stooges song halfway through their short but energetic set.
Austin Music Hall threatened to burst at its seams last night with soul, as a procession of some of the finest old-school and new revival soul musicians culminated in the dynamic Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings taking the stage close to midnight.
Raphael Saadiq disposed of his trademark glasses early in the set, preferring instead to run back and forth across the stage in a siren red suit suit, striking poses and strutting in front of his multi-piece R&B band. The suit jacket and tie didn't last long either, which was for the best -- Saadiq was determined to pack a marathon of music into his short, half-hour set. While most of his songs came from his new album, The Way I See It, this didn't seem to bother the crowd, who were dancing and wailing along for the entire thirty minutes.
If we thought the Music Hall was packed for Saadiq, however, it was nothing compared to the crowd that had settled in by the time Motown legend Smokey Robinson took the stage. The man to my left laughed as go-go dancers twirled wildly on either side of Robinson: "It's just like a Vegas show!"
And he wasn't far off. Robinson -- who was a keynote speaker this year at SXSW -- wasn't content just to run through his catalog of songs. For the hour that was allocated to him, he offered anecdotes about his happy decades in the Motown machinery, origin tales of popular songs like "My Girl" and "Tears of a Clown," and jokes about Stevie Wonder ("He offered to drive me home so I could start working on the song right away.
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I never drive with Steve. He drives way too fast. ...and he texts while he drives.")
He bantered with his band ("Why do all the girls always go 'Woooooooo!' when I introduce him? He's just a drummer!") stepped in choreographed time along with his dancers and sang not only his own songs, but songs that he'd written for Wonder and The Temptations, among others. He encouraged the crowd to sing along, as loudly as possible. Towards the end, he pulled a woman -- Emily -- from the audience and divided the crowd into sections -- Ben Folds-style -- to sing various parts of his songs. He hit every high note as if it was still 1969. There wasn't an unhappy face in the house. If Smokey Robinson ever decides to take Vegas, Wayne Newton won't stand a chance against this naturally epic showman.