If you ever get the feeling that rock-n-roll has run its course, is washed-up, over, done with, or dead, let me offer three bands up to you as an affirmation to the contrary: Black Joe Lewis, Radkey, and Think No Think. Currently touring in support of Austin-based Black Joe Lewis’ latest effort Electric Slave (Vagrant), their time at the Neptune Theater ranged from arena-worthy straight up rock to plunge-ahead punk to rowdy funk-soul-blues fusion. Putting those three styles into one room together might seem like sort of a head-scratcher, but it was all laid down at the altar of rock, and it was good. No, it was awesome.
The night started off with Think No Think, another Austin band, and the crowd quickly realized that it was time to listen or be left behind. Lead singer and guitarist John Dowey has a voice that sounds like a Jack White/young Robert Plant hybrid and some serious guitar skills. Rounded out by bassist Joe Pannenbacker and drummer Nick Bakke, the trio offered up a punk-tinged, full-bodied heavy rock sound that let everyone in the room know that they were more, much more, than just an opening band. You wouldn’t normally expect to see guitar-god antics at this point in the show, but hell, they were there and they were absolutely warranted. I urge you to check out their EP, available on Think No Think’s Bandcamp page.
Next up was Radkey, a punk outfit consisting of three brothers (Dee, Isaiah, and Solomon) that hails from St. Joseph, Missouri. Our lovely photographer Arlene and I were able to chat with the band before they hit the stage, and they were the nicest kids you could imagine, labeling their music ‘Afro-Punk’. Little did we realize that these sweet boys were about to kill it onstage. Dee charged through the band’s fast-paced, head banging songs, punishing his guitar and singing with a surprisingly deep, Danzig-like voice. Isaiah not only kept up the pace on bass and backing vocals, but also introduced the crowd to his own theatrics, leaping from the drum set to the stage and thrashing about all over the floor in a rock-induced frenzy. They were egged on by many loud whoops and cheers from the crowd, who loved what they were seeing and hearing. Drummer Solomon anchored the band to the stage and provided stability with his well-timed attacks on the drum kit. These three aren’t your average ‘boy-band’, indeed.
Now, when you have such high-caliber openers as there were on this night, it takes someone like Black Joe Lewis to top it all off. With a roadhouse-blues sound injected with a heavy dose of funk and a sprinkle of Springsteen at a revival, Black Joe, his gritty James Brown voice, and his gorgeous Telecaster guitar took the packed crowd and got them moving. And it wasn’t just the audience: everyone playing the music was enjoying themselves immensely as well; from the tenor and baritone saxophonists to the bassist and the drummer. The tenor saxophonist seemed particularly happy to be there and he grooved enthusiastically as he switched from sax to tambourine to the cowbell. The songs had a wide stylistic range; some sounding vaguely grungy (as in ‘Skulldiggin’ off Electric Slave) and others staying more inside the funk/blues outline. Lewis was at times tender with his guitar, at others he played it fiercely, and at others it seemed as he was attacking it, playing it several times with his teeth a la Jimi Hendrix. His shirt was dripping with sweat long before the band’s set was over, and with all of the dancing that was going on I’m pretty sure he wasn’t the only one. It was a high-energy kind of night, and we coasted that high all the way home, confident that some things are still right with the world. As Pete Townshend said, “Long Live Rock!”