It’s hard to find a good time on a weekday, but this past Tuesday, Black Joe Lewis and Radkey rocked the Fillmore like it was the weekend, giving the audience a chance to dance the midweek blues away. Headliner Black Joe Lewis dropped a 90-minute set of angry, hard-rocking blues with a few funky respites that featured a surprise guest appearance by Stooges sax player Steve Mackay. Their combined vitality made the night one to remember.
And before that, Radkey kicked things off with a high-energy punk set that would’ve sent a larger and more appropriate audience into frenzied mosh pits. If you like punk rock and haven’t heard of Radkey, stop what you’re doing and check them out right now. This trio of brothers from Missouri plays with a furious intensity that “makes you give a shit,” a goal they announced during the show. From an audience poll, the band drew favorable comparisons to Bad Brains and the Misfits, excellent company to be in for an upcoming garage punk band.
Radkey’s standout tracks included “Cat & Mouse” and “Start Freaking Out,” the latter of which prompted some fun onstage antics. The bass and guitar player took running starts at each other, fell to the ground, and continued to play and spin in circles. They put on quite a show, energizing the venue for the headliner.
Only two aspects of their performance fell short. One: Radkey desperately needed a better sound man. The sound was too muddled to hear what was being played, particularly from the bass. And two: the place was near empty when they played. There was plenty of energy on stage, and it is always upsetting when the audience doesn’t reciprocate it. The biggest crowds only showed up for the headliner, after Radkey’s set. Neither of the two is a criticism of Radkey itself of course.
Any qualms I had about the show, though, were dispelled when Black Joe Lewis played their set. As documented earlier, front man Joe Lewis has been experimenting with his style lately, moving from a funk-oriented sound to something harsher and more aggressive. Lewis answered any questions about what the night would sound like when the mean riff of their evil, Midnight Rambler-esque song “Vampire” came blasting through the speakers to open the set. The song accelerated and crescendoed in a way that would propel the band through the rest of the night.
While the band did play three of their funk songs—“Come To My Party,” “Sugarfoot,” and “Booty City”—blues and up-tempo rock and roll were the themes of the night. Highlights included the deliciously bluesy “She’s So Scandalous” and the hard-rocking, almost punk-sounding “Guilty.” And the crowd went absolutely nuts for the encore, “Bitch I Love You.”
Steve Mackay, as previously mentioned, joined the band for a few songs, soloing and seamlessly integrating his efforts with a horns section. In many ways, that horns section was the highlight of the show, providing rock and roll with a fullness that no other instruments can.
The energy of one sax player in particular drew me in. He cheered along with the crowd after every song, danced when he wasn’t playing, and did a Van Halen-style jump to emphatically slam a cowbell on one of the few songs where saxophone wasn’t in the instrumentation. He was having so much fun on stage that the audience couldn’t help but have as much fun dancing as he did.
However, not everyone in on stage could afford to go completely crazy. Lewis surprised the crowd by sitting down for most of the show. He revealed in between pieces that he had injured his foot earlier in the tour when he dove from the stage and nobody caught him. It’s a shame he was injured, because the Fillmore would have certainly caught him and sent him around the room a few times.
Despite his injury, Lewis did everything he could to keep up the energy of the set. He jumped around on one leg and repeatedly turned his guitar upside down, pointing it at his amp to generate some disorienting feedback (and revealing pictures of female posteriors on the back of his guitar, by the way). He even played a solo with his teeth.
It was an elbows-out kind of night at the Fillmore, with Radkey bringing the punk and Black Joe Lewis opting for a Stooges–rather than a James Brown–sound. In the end though, it doesn’t really matter if a band plays the greasiest funk or the most head-banging punk: as long as they bring energy, the audience leaves satisfied.
Article by Ryan Riedmuller