The very first live music you intentionally lay eyes and ears on at SXSW can be a very delicate choice, unless it's a complete no-brainer. So when Black Joe Lewis is playing three blocks from your hotel, you go. Lewis, a young Austinite who rolls up some 25 years of R&B history - roughly Bo Diddley to the Bar-Kays - into an explosive live revue, held those packed into the volleyball-court-sized tent on Radio Room's back patio rapt from the minute he opened with a meaty version of Clifton Chenier's "Hot Tamale Baby." (If the crowd was there to see M. Ward, scheduled to follow Lewis on one of the warmest afternoons of the year to date, they sure didn't act like it.)
Lewis' taste in clothes is as astute as his taste in covers; that sure was a nice Little Joe Washington T-shirt he had on.
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Drawing mostly from brand-new Lost Highway LP Tell 'Em What Your Name Is - as producer and Spoon drummer Jim Eno looked on from the wings - Lewis channeled soul legends from Wilson Pickett to Baytown's own Joe Tex in his urgent pleas for romantic amnesty or strident demands that no-good woman hit the road. His church-dressed ensemble the Honeybears buffed up Lewis' part-grunt, part-bark of a voice with a formidable arsenal of deep electric-piano boogie, chicken-scratch funk guitar and a three-man horn section that blew vintage James Brown, voodoo Dr. John and Sam & Dave on steroids.
Looks like it's going to be a soulful SXSW.