The enormous worth of a good horn section was confirmed Friday at Knuckleheads.
Without the dynamic three-piece horn section that makes up half of the Austin-based sextet Black Joe Lewis, the remaining guitarist, bassist and drummer would be just another talented but ultimately superfluous power trio. A capacity audience of more than 300 repeatedly heard saxophones and trumpets elevate Black Joe Lewis' soul-infused garage rock from the commonplace to the extraordinary.
Besides adding vital textures to the songs, the band's horn section seemed to be having a lot more fun than the stoic Joseph Lewis. A solid guitarist and a pleasingly raspy vocalist, Lewis serves as the face of the band. Yet the horn section represents the heart and soul of Black Joe Lewis.
Although it hasn't scored a breakout hit since its formation in 2007, the ensemble has developed a reputation as a galvanizing live act that appeals to both grizzled blues fans and youthful indie-rock aficionados. That likeminded bands including the Alabama Shakes and the Black Keys are far more popular is less an reflection of the worthiness of Black Joe Lewis than a tribute to the band's uncompromising attack. The band's electrifying 2013 release "Electric Slave" is its most unprocessed album to date.
Black Joe Lewis opened with "Vampire," a monster-themed selection that showcased the band's instrumental prowess while simultaneously indicating that its members don't take themselves too seriously. Lewis shouted that "the answer to life is on the dance floor" during a manic reading of "Come to My Party." There wasn't much room to move in the crowded room, but the audience became especially animated during the frenzy-inducing rave-ups "Sugarfoot" and "Booty City."
The Seattle-based band Pickwick upstaged Black Joe Lewis in its Kansas City debut. The sextet plays a version of R&B that evokes British invasion bands like the Spencer Davis Group and the Yardbirds. Rather than emphasizing guitar solos, remarkably astute arrangements serve as the focal point of Pickwick's material. Where Black Joe Lewis favored a rough-hewn approach, Pickwick was impeccably smooth.
Partly because vocalist Galen Disston sounds a lot like Paul Carrack, it seemed as if the band was constantly on the verge of breaking into the 1974 Ace hit "How Long" during its astonishing opening set.
Black Joe Lewis' horn section joined Pickwick for a cover of "The Ostrich," a deranged song recorded by Lou Reed early in his career. The hellacious horn-laden ruckus that ensued was easily the highlight of the evening.