Rolling through choice cuts from the aforementioned “Redemption” and “Blues of Desperation” with a smattering of covers from personal favorite blues greats, he wrapped his 2 hour set neatly with show goers wanting more, but blissfully satisfied. The encore consisted of another cover and to the delight of everyone in attendance, his most notable single - from the 2002 record “The Ballad of John Henry” - the soaring "Mountain Time”.
The band was tight and settled into a groove straight away, flashing smiles and smashing solos. Joe spread the love encouraging all his musician friends to take the spotlight for a moment to showcase their musical chops. The night was a feast for the eyes and certainly the ears.
At the stroke of 8pm, on the dot, the house lights went down and the stage lights came up. The audience cheered, clapped and whistled as the band began to form on stage at their respective spots. And just as they all settled in, the smartly dressed, blue suited Mr. Bonamassa walked out, with a gait that belied a purpose. The swift, brisk steps indicated their was business to attend to and he was ready to see it through. Eager, if you will.
A quick nod in acknowledgement to the crowd and then turning to his guitar tech who had already appeared next to him with his vintage axe, the implement we all came to hear him play, the group broke into a Muddy Waters tune, the toe tapping “Tiger In Your Tank”. Transported back to an old juke joint on the Chittlin’ Circuit, heads bobbed and hands clapped to the downbeat. A cover from one of the blues greats to open the show was an exercise in foreshadowing, setting the tone for the remainder of the night. A tribute, if you will, to the performers that came before brandishing this music we call the blues. Seemingly an ask for blessings to the blues gods that laid the ground work and spread this gospel of heart break set to slide guitar.
And if the boogie woogie hadn’t effectively worked it’s way through the crowd and made it to the cheap seats, Joe strapped on yet another vintage Gibson as the band jumped right into Joe’s original “King Bee Shakedown” prominently featuring uproariously bright horns and plenty of jive from the female backing vocalists. The groove train pulled into the station as Joe Bonamassa, train conductor extraordinaire, laid down such a tasty riff growling through the amps in his guitar-to-horn call and response number “Evil Mama”. And if you think Bonamassa is strictly a bluesman, look no further than exhibit A: his guitar solo about 3 minutes into the tune. Rock n Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Slash, agrees according to a 2010 tweet in which he stated Joe B. was his new favorite guitarist after seeing him perform on Jools Holland. Armed with wah wah and a few other effects, Joe laid down a blistering run up and down the neck of his Strat that I swear I saw a few wisps of smoke leap from around the twelfth fret.
Graciously allowing the crowd to catch their breath, the group brought the tempo down slightly with groove garnished “Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should” before sliding into a personal favorite, “Self Inflicted Wounds”. Arguably one of Joe’s most soulful laments, he switched to yet another vintage six string. So many great guitars from Joe’s arsenal made their way onto the stage it was hard to keep track. No doubt this beauty was probably acquired stealing away on another nefarious “guitar safari” while out on tour across this great country of ours. Joe is a rabid collector of vintage gear. So much so that he is now the purveyor of the “Bonaseum” occupying an entire room in his California home in which he stores and displays his collection. But special note, and to his credit, these instruments don’t sit behind a glass display case. They’re packed up in Anvil cases and come out on tour with him. Like a traveling road show, sharing stories of road houses, ball rooms and recording studios, the vintage fiddles sing with rich blues history as Joe B. so masterfully coaxes with each down stroke.
Jumping into the “Blues of Desperation” catalog, the band took us all on a passionate, heartfelt journey with “This Train”, “Blues of Desperation”, “No Good Place for the Lonely” and “How Deep This River Runs”. Many standing ovations followed the conclusion of each tune as the audience were thoroughly soaked in Louisiana, Delta and jump blues ecstasy.
Now was the time in the show for a lesson in the greats. Joe chose yet another blues icon to cover. This one, however, holds a special place in his heart as someone who he credits as giving him his big break as a fledgling blues guitarist of 12 inviting him to open a handful of his shows. Joe and the session collective broke into “Boogie Woogie Woman”, a song that brought the indomitable B.B. King to the forefront of the genre in the early 50’s. At almost twice the bpm of the original, the tune took on more of a swing feel, much to the delight of the energized crowd. Solos made their way around the stage as the capable musicians put on an absolute clinic.
Albert King was represented by “I Get Evil” along with another B.B. king classic, “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother”. John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers saw their song “Little Girl” taken for a spin along with Delany and Bonnie’s “Well Well”. And finally, “Last Kiss”, a track off Bonamassa’s 2002 album “The Ballad of John Henry”, closed the show.
Somewhere in the melee of Memphis blues, Joe introduced each member of the band with a few highlights of their impressive resumes. And then, a poignant pause to thank his manager of over 30 years, who was in the audience, and was “the only person who told him he SHOULDN’T change his name.”
As mentioned earlier, the show closer was “Mountain Time”. I mention it again because…it is that powerful it deserves a second mention. And so, I will now close.
Encore: If you have the chance to see Joe Bonamassa live, skip your grandmother’s birthday, your cousin’s bat mitzvah and/or even your youngest’s school play to catch a glimpse of greatness.
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