Joe Bonamassa: Live From Houston In Particular
STAFFORD CENTRE -- 9/27/08: I had the distinct pleasure of visiting a Joe Bonamassa concert at the Stafford Centre in the Houston area last Saturday night. It was a fantastic exhibition of musicianship and high-spirited entertainment.
They used to call him "Smokin' Joe," even though he has repeatedly expressed his dislike for that particular tag. Well, he may have successfully divorced himself from the nickname, but he sure hasn't quit smokin'. For those who haven't been keeping up with current events, Joe Bonamassa is still one of the most talented guitar virtuosos out there today. Over the last several years, his picture has graced the cover of a whole flurry of guitar player magazines, and he's enjoyed enviable acclaim among both fans and fellow musicians alike for his mastery of the instrument. After an advantageous hook-up at a early age with long-time friend B. B. King, he carried his career into lead guitar work for a group called Bloodline and eventually added his own loud and growlingly-exuberant vocals to his already-honed axe-craft in his eponymous New York-based blues/rock trio.
Since then, Bonamassa has unleashed a surprise or two on his loyal grassroots following by slightly shifting gears musically into relatively different headings. Gone are the raw-sounding collaborations with Eric Czar and Kenny Kramme of his earlier days, and gone is the brief climb into the bigger spotlight opening for Peter Frampton. Also seemingly gone are the days when many of the songs on his new albums were just as rock-oriented as blues-oriented. Still, the most amazing things about these transitions are that he has always seemed to land on his feet and that further popularity has far remained so inexplicably elusive.
Make no mistake about it, though: Bonamassa is a real powerhouse guitarist. His finesse on the frets is every bit as impressive as his speed and technical agility. He can swath-out a delicate piece one minute and pounce on you with fat-and-muscular sonic booms of guitar and voice the next. Maybe it's a Jekyll and Hyde thing, I don't know. Frankly, he's anything but predicable. Compared early on to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Texas blues-rock icon Stevie Ray Vaughan, his more recent move toward a much more predominant blues element in his material has merely succeeded only in garnering him greater accolades from the blues purist community. Since moving in this direction, he's scored two #1 album spots on the Blues charts, a feat that has sparked a fair bit of notoriety. To date, he has produced eight albums, pretty much one for every year since 2000, and each one has its own degree of versatility and its own unique characteristics that make it distinct from the others. His latest venture, the two-disc Live From Nowhere In Particular, is a grand overview of many of the best songs he's put out during his solo journey, served-up in rousing live-act fashion.
Coming off the heels of Hurricane Ike's devastation, there were questions as to whether or not the show would even take place at all. Pausing in mid-set, Bonamassa underlined the fact that cancelling the concert never entered his mind. "After all," he interjected, "I didn't survive the hurricane. You did." Backstage later, the Mayor of Stafford was on hand to extend the city's personal thanks for bringing the "Joe Show" to the thousands of residents in attendance, many of whom were no doubt still without full utilities amidst the checkerboarded efforts of local workers to completely restore power to the Houston metro area.
The show turned out to be an electrifying smorgasbord of songs that closely modeled the Nowhere In Particular layout. With Carmine Rojas (bass), Rick Melick (keyboards), and Bogie Bowles (drums), who were showcased briefly with solos during the set, the band exhibited an even tighter familiarity and attack than last year's Houston outing. Bonamassa opened with the strutting "Bridge To Better Days" and rolled out numerous fan favorites like "India/Mountain Time," "Water Everywhere," "Sloe Gin," and "Blues Deluxe." It was great to hear him dip into rock territory often throughout, with one of the best parts of the act featuring extended jams on ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin covers in mid-show. As has been his tradition for good long while, Bonamassa engaged in his exhilarating acoustic guitar exhibition set with "Woke Up Dreaming," complete with highly technical shifts from very soft dynamic nuances to wild, finger-flying, sixteenth-note passages that were incredibly impressive. Utilizing several different styles of guitars to invoke various tonal effects throughout, Bonamassa continued to succeed at making it all look very easy, even to those who aren't six-string novices and know better.
A super guitarist. A great backing band. And a wonderful venue, to boot. What blues/rock enthusiast could really ask for more? Bonamassa really makes his guitars talk, and they all say: "Don't miss this guy next time around." END