LIVE: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears @ Empire State Plaza, 7/20/16

July 26th, 2016, 3:30 pm by Greg

Review by Greg Haymes

Billed as R&B Night, last week’s concert at Albany’s Empire State Plaza was the grand finale of the 2016’s free Capital Concert Series season. And while it was a dynamic three-band, four-hour concert that explored the broad spectrum of rhythm and blues, the crowd was surprisingly thin.

“Oh, this is intimate,” proclaimed Joshua Mirsky, frontman and bandleader for the Local 518 band Mirk, as he and his five-piece band took the stage at 5pm. And he wasn’t kidding. There weren’t more than three dozen fans on the New York State Museum steps, which serves as the seating for the shows.

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Undaunted, they whipped through a 50-minute set of hip-hop-infused R&B, stretching from the outrageously contagious, hook-filled “Forbidden” from their 2009 debut (when they were known as Mirk & the New Familiars) to more recent offerings (“Let It Go” from their 2015 album, Run) to a sneak peak at their upcoming new album with the funkified, “She Don’t Feel the Same.” Along the way, the six-piece band also romped though a jam-packed Michael Jackson medley.

Next up, Sonny Knight & the Lakers were kickin’ it old-school. Serious old-school. Resplendent in his royal blue suit, the 66-year-old Knight wailed and howled through a throwback soul revue, pumped to the max by a seven-piece band in matching suits and ties that was rollin’ ‘n’ tumblin’ from the opening stomp through “Cave Man.” They dug in deep for a soul-stroll with “It’s You for Me,” and the three-piece horn section stepped up for the funkiest rendition of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper,” that you’re ever likely to hear.

Headliners Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears fueled their decidedly contemporary brand of R&B with a jolt of pure punk energy, laying the distorted guitars over the top of Lewis’ wailing soul-shout and a hyper-blast tempo. Depending on where you were situated on the plaza (and your willingness to surrender to the moment) the result was either exhilarating or totally over-bearing. It was, in fact, a bit of both…

Led by singer-guitarist Joe Lewis, the Austin-based horn-fueled, seven-piece band blitzed through a 80-minute headlining show that stretched across their recorded repertoire and even included as-yet-unreleased selections, highlighted by “For the First Time.”

They may have hit their highwater mark fairly early on in their show with the back-to-back pairing of “Booty City” and “Big Booty Baby.” As Lewis explained afterwards, “That’s a deep song…really deep. I feel strongly about some things.”

Reprinted with the permission of The Times Union