Photography by Micah Gummel.
Joe Bonamassa ROCKS Boston, November 3, 2011.
Joe Bonamassa descended on the Wang this Thursday playing to a crowd of 3,000. This self made Blues Titan stayed close to his roots, yet soared through the roof with classic and electric blues. Just a day before taping a live DVD of his solo work, he performed a wide range of songs from his deep catalog, including the recent release, Dust Bowl. He started off sleek and fantastic, building a show that ended with sporting a Bruins jersey and jamming ZZ Top and Zeppelin. Fans who had seen him several times told us after the show that this was one of his best performances. He was completely on his mark.
To read the biographies of the band members click here.
Joe Bonamassa- Guitar, vocals
Carmine Rojas- Bass
Rick Melick- Wurlitzer Organ/Synthesizer
Tal Bergman- Drums
Boston's Wang Theatre was on fire with anticipation of this show. Iron Maiden's, Two Minutes To Midnight, blared over the loudspeakers and fans rushed to their seats.
Joe and the band powered into Cradle Rock and didn't let up for a second until six songs later. Each song had an amazing solo from Joe, intertwined with bass and lead jam sessions, excellent (and sometimes witty) drumming and contemporary key board fusions.
Piercing was Midnight Blues, a Gary Moore original. It was smooth and deeply soulful without being melancholy. I've seen photos of Joe with Gary at guitar events, a true connection captured. Joe played this one with pride tonight. I noticed a quiet in the theatre, it was chilling. We all miss Gary Moore.
Dust Bowl, from the same titled new release, was played with some longer solos and a great drum solo. This album, to me, is contemporary blues rock with some earthy tones and country vibes due to the special guests on the record. This centerpiece song seems to capture the whole of the album as a title track should, and on this night, Joe played it with a crisp lead to contrast the warm rhythmic undercurrent.
You Better Watch Yourself was a rockin jump blues number with Carmine's bass jamming with Joe, and Rick's organ cranking. It ended with the familiar, warm, what I will call, the Joe Bona-hey-yeah. "Heyyeahyayayyy-yeah ..."
One thing I noticed in seeing Joe live as compared to listening to his recordings is that the he and the band seem to tie the performance together in a cohesive way, especially during the transitions between songs. Some of the riffs he plays between one song, foreshadow others and the subtle repetition almost makes the show sound like musical score, because it just flows so easily. I read in Tal Bergman's bio that he produces musical scores for other projects. Important nuances of talent among bands sometimes come through in peripheral factors. It is apparent that each band member has stand alone mastery, so to bring them together creates something that rises to another level.
The was clear in the beginning of Sloe Gin. The intro was extended, ethereal and a fan yelled out, 'Take away the pain, Joey!" He met this with a slight grin and marched on, electrifying the crowd with another majestic solo, seeming to wrap it up with a few Ballad of John Henry riffs.
"Good Evening, Boston!" "What a great crowd!" He mentioned he'll be showing off the band and they've been rehearsing for a DVD recording which will take place tomorrow (November 4th, 2011). "This is incredible, 3,000 people here!" Then he told a funny story of how a woman told him she was so grateful that he came all the way from the UK just to play tonight, but that he doesn't sound British ! This was quite a funny story and he reminded us he is from Utica, NY which raised some familiar cheers from the crowd.
Joe said he played in the original House of Blues, in Cambridge, not Boston, to a crowd of 20 people back in the day and appreciated this crowd tonight. We are not sure if he knew that not all audience members were from New England. People from all over the country were in attendance tonight, including a couple who traveled from Indiana.
In announcing the next song, he said it was the closest thing he has had to a 'hit'. The crowd laughed, knowing what he meant: A hit ? What does that mean these days anyway. "Twelve albums, over 130 songs - and he proudly says - no hits." So, the song that he considered 'closest to a hit' was - The Ballad of John Henry. Leave it to Joe Bonamassa to have this complicated masterful work reflecting on the folklore of American culture, the oppression of the workforce, along with layers of technical phrasing, guitar work and roots inspired vocals to be considered 'almost a hit'. Joe's music is crafted beyond what even a 'good hit' would be creatively today. Legend has it that John Henry beat 'the machine' by hammering through a mountain. Won't you ring that hammer ? Hammer ring. (Jesse Bradley).
Listening to the rhythmic and romantic Happier Times live tonight, I thought, this could easily be a radio hit. Carefully noted, though are still those complicated lyrics that reflect real life relationships and the layers of instrumentation. Radio historically never liked long solos, classic rock fans still pain in the history of the dreaded time cuts of their favorite album songs. Joe doesn't compromise, nor do his listeners. At this point in Joe's career and the experience of the fans, staying genuine is all that matters. He keeps achieving this higher level of standard.
I followed Joe's tour set list all month, but tonight there were a few slight changes from prior shows. Blue and Evil. This made us laugh here at Bluebirdreviews, because we kept hearing Blue and Evil as a topic of conversation many times throughout the night prior to the show. One special fan, Boston Street Teamer, DebFromMaine loves the song and continued to say that she hoped he played it tonight. Other fans were pointedly saying, "No," "Joe hates the song, why would you want him to suffer through that." The friendly chatter ensued without resolve until we heard Joe belt it out on stage. After the performance people were wild with congratulations for Deb that she heard her favorite song on this special night.
If Heartaches Were Nickels from Joe's first album, A New Day Yesterday. This Leslie West inspired track is timeless and Joe thanks West in his album notes. I also noticed in my review of Don't Explain, that West did a version of Sinner's Prayer, so the threads continue to weave solid blues forms into Joe's contemporary style, while adding Joe's signature guitar work. Great song. I can't count how many people I heard in the audience who mumbled, "Oh, this is the story of my life." We've all been to the places of which Joe refers, but no one can move the soul to speak to it like he can through his music.
I've been writing music reviews for several years now and one thing that readers and musicians keep reminding me about is that the 'whole' of the music's impact on a person is what's most important, rather than the sum of its individual parts. Langhorne Slim highlighted this in a recent interview I did with him and I'm grateful for it. The songs history, form,and technical aspects are important, but somewhere along the line, people will remind me of how a song helped them through a tough time, or they celebrated a special occasion with it, or it just keeps them company in their daily life. Joe's fans keep this aspect of his music in the forefront every day.
Just before Young Man's Blues, Tal Bergman ripped into a drum solo that brought the house down. I loved to watch was his style of drumming, when he crossed his sticks, his hair flying and his constant energetic grin. He kept holding his crossed sticks up and the crowd saw this as a cue to cheer, it was great. Joe had a double neck out for this song and he transformed this Who's classic into his own. There was a trio jam of Carmine, Tal and Joe and that was fun to watch. Carmine was side by side with Joe most of the night, playing the rhythms and bass that kept us all moving in our seats. I wrote one note about Joe's voice in this song, "soul voice howling" and yes, I mean it the way you think that I do, Howlin Wolf. He was that good. In traditional blues style, there was a call and response piece and Joe brought this one home. Tal's hair was flying back and forth between his sticks and the entire drum kit seemed to be vibrating. The crowd loved it and the song sent them to their feet for ovation.
Joe has great stage presence which is hard to describe, but I'll try. To me, he is elegant and understated, focusing on the precision of his guitar work and the music first. Yet, he has rock star quality as he moves across the stage in clever poetic tempo. He is fun to watch because the music he is playing is such an extension of himself, every note is out there for the audience to not only hear but experience on a visual level as well. He's a magnificent showman.
Devil's rising, I don't stand a chance, when I hear any version of Woke Up Dreaming. The first I heard of this song was in the Royal Albert Hall video series and I was blown away. My friend who doesn't know Joe's music compared him to the contemporary work of Lindsey Buckingham in this song, because of the precise acoustic picking that is really unprecedented in many bands. This is my favorite track, and tonight it was flawless. I am always amazed at how Joe can pull off complicated songs and then end them on a dime so eloquently. The whole performance comes together in that crescendo, the moment in time that stands still, we stop and it's now a part of us too.
Mountain Time. Rick Melick had great presence at this show, and during Mountain Time, he was able to share the stage with Joe alone. Melick's smooth style came through to underscore Joe's blues licks. When the drums and bass returned, the song slowed to the basic metronome beats and then came back, building up note by note into an exclusive jam. Screaming through his guitar, Joe leaned back with a mountain of force swirling over him. "Hey-ey-ey-ey-yeah !!!!"
This marked the end of the official set.
With the audience waiting, cheering through a standing ovation, Joe returned to the stage with his flying V guitar and encouraged the crowd to stay on their feet. Bird On A Wire. For self-indulgent reasons, I love this song, and in researching it, I learned a lot about Leonard Cohen. Many artists have covered this song, as it seems to be a statement of artistic and emotional freedom. It doesn't demand freedom, though, but searches for it and shares the struggle through the metaphors and images that the song projects.
What came into my mind as I was sitting in the theatre with these dedicated fans, the relentlessly committed band and the connection that Joe Bonamassa had with this crowd, was the idea that Joe has serendipitously built a community the same way that he builds his songs. He takes an idea that is genuinely part of who he is and just goes with it, applies layers and layers of what he knows to it, folklore, history, musicianship, technology, and then the song can stand strong. To the fans, that's the 'hit'. His fans are the same way, people who congregate because they believe in his music and create history by the layers of generosity that they express toward each other and to Joe. We are always connected to the journey of the struggle, but the pride of striving for our freedom of identity comes through. To me, this is the epitome of blues. Joe blared out his soulful voice in this historic song, accompanied with beautiful musicianship. Enter, joy and connection.
Joe ended the night with his traditional signature cover of ZZ Top's Just Got Paid and it's we who received the big pay off because this song was over the top fantastic. He integrated his masterful guitar solos with cutting edge sound scapes via distortion, which flowed into early riffs of Zeppelin's Dazed and Confused and then the full out phrases of Dazed and back again to his own jam. I heard some John Henry riffs woven through this piece as well, again, the subtle repetition throughout the set which made it all come together like a musical score. Even when the house lights came on, ZZ Top still roared through the theatre with 'Cheap Sunglasses' over the loudspeakers.
As I left the theatre, I could hear the conversations of the fans, running through the set list, comparing performances and just talking straight blues music. People were hugging each other because Joe played a favorite song. This show was not only a triumph for Joe, it was a winning moment for them. The Bonamassa Street Team Manager, Alexis Terrosa, said something about the Joe-fan connection that stayed with me. He said there are so many parts to Joe's music that people can relate to, and Joe being a totally self-made musician, "People believe if Joe makes it, then they make it."
We, here at the website, are so impressed with the Joe Bonamassa fan community as well as their Street Team organization, that we are writing a series of articles and posting photos on just the fans. We will post this series here, soon.
The Joe Bonamassa Street Team Notebook can be found here.
If you want more concert photos of the Joe Bonamassa Show at the Wang Center as shot by Micah Gummel, you can find them here.
The set list was slightly changed from his London performances last month. Cradle Rock, When the Fire Hits the Sea, Midnight Blues/Gary Moore, Slow Train, Dust Bowl, You Better Watch Yourself, Sloe Gin, The Ballad of John Henry, Lonesome Road Blues, Happier Times, Blue and Evil, If Heartaches Were Nickels, Young Man's Blues/The Who, Woke Up Dreaming, Mountain Time, Bird on a Wire, Just Got Paid/ZZ Top with Zeppelin jam of Dazed and Confused.
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There is more to come for coverage of this show, until then, what a thrill to share this life of music with you all.