Friday Night: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears And The Relatives At The Continental Club
A few times a year, the Continental Club hosts shows that can be legitimately described as "soul happenings," usually featuring venerable Gulf Coast stars such as Archie Bell, Roy Head and Barbara Lynn; just last Saturday, we saw some prime bacon-fat funk by the "Black Godfather," Andre Williams. But in Aftermath's three years in Houston, and two of living in an apartment above the club (where yes, we do in fact pay rent), we have never seen anything as soulful, or as happening, as what went down Friday night.
The line stretching all the way to Julia's around 9:30 p.m. was our first clue - earlier Friday, Sig's Lagoon owner Tomas Escalante told us that people were driving in from Austin for the show, and that he could have sold at least 100 more tickets from the phone calls he got Friday alone.
"Next time the Honeybears play in Houston they'll definitely need a bigger venue," Brittanie Shey wrote here after the group's show at Walter's on Washington in April, and that's just as true now - even if they weren't about to win a whole bunch of new fans opening for the Dave Matthews Band next month, it's getting harder and harder for a room even the size of the Continental to hold the Honeybears' lightning-bolt energy.
The real revelation Friday, though, was the Relatives. The Dallas group that released a handful of singles during the '70s before reuniting last year opened with a set that took gospel music and dipped it in the roiling waters of soul, funk, blues and R&B, keeping its eye on the sparrow while its gut was more gin house than church house.
Clad in matching cream suits and salmon shirts, the Relatives' four vocalists combined to ignite harmonies and falsettos that matched great '70s groups like the Dramatics and Chi-Lites, while the all-black-clad band behind them dug down deep for some grooves that could have out-funked the Meters. "Don't Let Me Fall" was especially viscous, and "Free At Last" flagged down the Staples Singers' freedom train to glory for a stirring tribute to the weekend's March on Washington anniversary.
"Do you love us, Houston? Can we come back?" one of the Relatives asked after the lengthy conscience-raiser "What's Wrong With America." Yes we do, and yes they can. Anytime they want.
The Relatives certainly set Friday's bar pretty high for the headliners, but Black Joe and friends were up to the task - blunt, crackling and visceral. The group hit its stride on Clifton Chenier's "Hot Tamale Baby," the three-man horn section carving out a swaggering groove as Lewis reassured the sold-out room that "it's all right." It was all right - better than all right.
Lewis and crew barreled through the rest of the set like that proverbial runaway freight train, barely pausing for breath as they tossed Otis Redding, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Muddy Waters into a big ol' blender and poured out the results over a crowd that was either gyrating like a lost episode of Shindig or doing the punk-rock headbang like the Continental was CBGB.
Sadly, unlike in April, Little Joe Washington couldn't be there in person - "We're all big fans," Lewis said, "we were hoping he'd show up" - but he was certainly there in spirit as the Honeybears slowed down just long enough to cover one of Washington's swamp-pop nuggets. (By this time, Aftermath was too busy gettin' busy to catch the name.)
After "I'm Drunk" and "Sugarfoot" closed out the set by relocating the Continental to the Apollo circa 1965 or so, Aftermath stepped out back for some much-needed air and to scrawl down a few notes. The very first thing we wrote down was "Shit. Something just changed my life."
That's pretty much about anyone can hope for from a show. If it was the last time Lewis and the Honeybears were able to play the Continental (we do hope the Relatives play there again, and soon), they couldn't have gone out on a better note.