There are few guitar hero’s left in the world of Rock & Roll, but even fewer in the realm of the Blues. But Joe Bonamassa proves time and time again that not only is he one of the most revered guitar players and songwriters in the world. But has shown what a high class musical performance should be. His shows always take place in the nicest theater venues in town, creating a more intimate and enjoyable experience both aesthetically and acoustically.
Joe also surrounds himself with some of the most talented and acclaimed musicians from around the world in order to deliver the best show musically possible. And we can’t leave out his desire to be the sharpest dressed man in the room, not for flash, but as a sign of respect to his audience for wanting to look as presentable on stage as possible.
This spring would be Bonamassa’s second leg of the tour in support of his latest record Time Clocks marking this as his 15th studio release. It has been 3 years since Joe and Company filled this building with music and laughs. But peaking at the setlist for tonight, they are surely going to make up for lost time. As the crowd’s conversations echo through the room, they immediately morph into a thunderous ovation as the house lights begin to dim.
Almost instantly the very familiar sounds of John Sebastians’ famous song Welcome Back from the “Welcome Back, Kotter ” T.V. show and only fuels the applause. Through the darkness on stage, the unmistakable sight of a white Les Paul pickguard can be seen floating around the stage. Soon a 2 count from Drummer Lemar Carter would usher in tonight’s show.
The stage soon becomes illuminated with bright red and orange lighting revealing not only the band, but tonight’s first song and one of Joe’s favorite openers. The upbeat Evil Mama. Right out of the gate we’re treated to not only some furious guitar playing, but to the always impressive vocal angels, leading ladies Jade MacRae and Dannielle Deandrea as their dresses sparkle like disco balls behind the band.
We also didn’t have to wait long to take in the always impressive key work of Hall of Fame Inductee Reese Wynans as he lays down his first Hammond solo of the night. The band would transition into one of my personal favorites and would be the first time I’ve seen it performed live, the hypnotically riffed Dust Bowl. Joe’s guitar work was nothing short of amazing. Very few have the tonal control of their playing the way he does. From the subtle Leslie effect of its opening to his intense solo, Bonamassa puts a good part of his talents on full display very early in the set.
Joe is not only an incredible songwriter. But he also has an amazing ability to re-create others’ music with his own flair and at the same time, staying true to the original. One song in particular is Midnight Blues, from the legendary Gary Moore. In true fashion, Bonamassa totes one of his 59′ Burst’s to pen his homage to the late Moore. The vocal pairing of MacRae, Deandrea and Joe created such a soulful aura in the room you can’t help but just close your eyes and sing along. The soothing calm would soon shift to the powerful bends and rapid fire notes of the blistering guitar solo that surely did Gary proud as the room cheered in astonishment.
Following that up would be the first many would hear new music off of Time Clocks live with The Heart That Never Waits. This song has all the facets of the blues that you could possibly pack into one song. It’s smooth chord progressions, chunky rhythms and a tasteful note selection would lay the groundwork under its passionate melodies. This would be the first time we’d get to hear individual solos from both Jade and Dannielle, adding some vocal contrast.
But it would be Joe’s guitar that would steal the spotlight here. Bonamassa would go right to the edge of the stage and roll the volume back to where it was almost inaudibly low and began to pick and pluck the strings as he created swells and accents that only he could do. Overzealous fans couldn’t help themselves from cheering him on before he exits through a big crescendo and rolls through the finish line.
Another musically wow moment was during Just Cuz You Can Don’t Mean You Should. The tone of the song had a Blues attitude about it. With its quick neck slides, sharp vibratos and sassy vocals it would set itself apart from the rest of the songs in the set. But almost 4 minutes in, the real magic would happen. What would start off as another in the long line of virtuosic but elegant solos from Bonamassa, would be rivaled a couple of verses later when he announces “Come’on Reese.”.
With the two literally under their own spotlights it was Reese Wynan that would steal the focus as he squeezed every drop of soul out of those keys. One of the greatest to ever sit behind a piano or organ makes it look effortlessly as his hands gallop up and down those notes.
The upbeat swing of Lonely Boy had just about the entire room tapping their feet to the beat of song. You know that old saying
“Beware of the quiet ones”? It is wrong to underestimate Guitarist Josh Smith’s talents as just a quiet rhythm player. Joe yells out “Josh Smith!”. And right on cue, Smith steps up and takes the room by storm. As Josh launches into his 6 string barrage of lightning fast licks and finger tap dancing up and down the neck, Joe steps back and grabs a sip of his much desired Diet Coke as Bassist Steve Mackey looks on with a smile on his face.
This is the first time I’ve seen Joe with another guitar player on tour and I have to admit. It was fun watching someone give him a run for his money. Following Josh’s display, the focus would jump to the other side of the stage as Wynans would be forced to one up another guitar player making him 2-0 for the night. But Joe would jump in the mix and be the last one to entertain the crowd with another dazzling display of musical magic. As the last note still hangs in the air, Carter counts off and the band breaks into the heaviest song of the set with Ballad of John Henry.
This was a song I was looking forward to the entire set. It has such a hard driving riff that carries the song from the wind of the cries “Who killed John Henry”. The mood of this song has always had a Middle-Eastern vibe to me and was the first example of the heaviness that Joe can bring to his music. As the song progresses, Joe changes up the interlude most known from the studio version and the song goes somewhere extraordinary.
As the band slows the tempo down, Singer Jade MacRae steps to the plate and delivers an unbelievable performance. Her vocal cries and vibrato hit the peak and valley of just about every note on the register and can really only be compared to the prime of Robert Plant’s voice during his best possible display of Kashmir. And to no surprise at all, she received the first and well deserved standing ovation of the night.
After the band walks off stage the entire room stays in darkness. While the chants of “Joe, Joe, Joe” fill the dark venue, the sounds of a heavy handed acoustic guitar turns the chants to cheers. Joe walks out from Stage Right glowing from a single spotlight strumming the very familiar tune Woke Up Dreaming. Without backup from his band, this solo performance really showcases the power and depth he has within his voice.
But that would soon be outdone by the stunning display he would put on with his acoustic guitar. Bonamassa played it with such ferocity that by the end I was waiting for the guitar itself to crumble much like the Bluesmobile at the end of the Blues Brothers. But it was his solo and leads that really impressed me as a guitar player and that he could play with so much speed and still keep the clarity of every single note. It really reminded me of the insanity that was Stevie Ray Vaughn’s acoustic performance of Skuttle Buttin’.
While the crowd rises to its feet once again, this time in recognition of Joe’s unreal playing, he greets the fans with “I know we’ve heard a few of you tonight shout out this song. It’s probably the most requested song and closest thing I’ll ever have in my life to a hit song. This one here is a little DITTY, we like to call Mountain Time.”. There must have been a lot of people calling out the song because the entire room erupts with one of the loudest ovations of the night. Joe’s reimagined version of his iconic “diddy” has always had more of an emotional punch than the original while creating a very intimate setting with the fans.
Bonamassa would slide in a nice tribute to Jimi Hendrix with a subtle insert of the opening riff from Burning of the Midnight Lamp right before we hit the final stretch. The last few verses you could feel the energy growing on stage right up to the final notes lead into our climactic ending. As the band delivers their finale the entire room is on its feet to give their full acclaim for this amazing show they’ve just witnessed. While the band start to make their way to center stage Bonamassa reaches into his pocket and showers fans in the first few rows with a handful of guitar pics. Once everyone gets together, we get our final bow from the band and an official close to our evening.
If this show was any indication of what the rest of the tour holds, fans are in for a real treat. Joe Bonamassa once again shows why he is so successful on the road. With a great setlist, world class musicians and the desire to give his fans the best live performance possible, Joe’s Spring Tour will undoubtably make it one of the year’s best. It is no surprise that tickets are going fast for the remaining shows so make sure you get yours, because you definitely don’t want to miss out on this one! Don’t forget to pickup Joe’s new record Time Clocks and to check out new music from his bandmates.