Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears

One look at this Austin-based blues band, who played Lollapalooza in Chicago a couple weeks back, and you know they're cool. Black Joe Lewis, a throwback to soul shouters like James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, hangs front and center, surrounded by a whip-ass combo and three-piece horn section. Strutting and swaying, the band breaks into "Gunpowder" and energy pours off the stage in waves, like when Sharon Jones and her Dap-Kings bring the funk. And when Lewis trots out his most requested song, "Bitch, I Love You" ("...but I don't know why"), crowds go wild — it's one of the best things to come along since Chick Willis put the blue in blues with the risqué "Stoop Down, Baby." From Lewis's Albert Collins licks to his respect for Lightnin' Hopkins's country-blues to the rhythm section's deep Chess Records feel, Lewis and the Honey Bears hold close to blues traditions without limiting themselves within them. Raw, loud, and as intense as a garage band, Lewis and company only have one gear: high.

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William Michael Smith