The Who, Steely Dan, Van Morrison and now Joe Bonamassa.
I have seen Clapton, Van Halen and Richards, but none had the energy, precision and the knock-down, drag-out solos like the performance I saw October 22 at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. “Joe Bonamassa is one of the most technically proficient guitarists in the world,” says Rolling Stone magazine. I couldn’t agree more.
Bonamassa’s parents owned a guitar store, and he started playing when he was 4. At age 8 he opened for B.B. King, and at age 12, he was playing regularly around upstate New York. He hooked up with the band Bloodline before releasing his first solo album, A New Day Yesterday. Demonstrating his diversity, in 2013 he released a live CD/DVD set called An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House and followed it up in 2014 with Live in Amsterdam with Beth Hart—my favorite concert DVD.
Bonamassa puts on a killer live show, which has allowed him to build a passionate fan base. With no video and a clean stage, the show focused 100 percent on the music. He has no hit songs, so his performance included cuts from his new album, Blues of Desperation, past songs and covers.
“This Train” and “Mountain Climbing,” the first two songs from his new album, are a pair of bare-knuckled blues-rockers that evoke not only Stevie Ray Vaughan, but bands like Mountain and Led Zeppelin.
Behind him was a dream band, with Reese Wynans (of SRV’s Double Trouble) on keys, the legendary Anton Fig (of the Letterman band and much, much more) on drums, veteran bassist Michael Rhodes, trumpeter Lee Thornburg, saxophonist Paulie Cerra and two soulful backup singers from Australia, Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins.
Bonamassa’s sound is tight, clean and thick. A good-sounding show requires an acoustically sound venue, a good sound man and artists who know the space’s limitations. All three were hitting on all cylinders. The show filled up every corner of The Colosseum. The separation of sound was absurdly good. Each member of the eight-piece band came in clear, from the whistle tones of the soprano to the foundational bass. Bonamassa’s raw display of skill built tension as he repeated the same lick dozens of times, and each song featured at least one extended guitar solo.
Bonamassa does not do a lot of talking, but he was proud of the blue suit he bought at The Forum Shops Caesars.
The encore was “Hummingbird,” a B.B. King track that set up a series of grandstanding solos. For the number, he wore an Evel Knievel motorcycle helmet. The audience was on its feet. The gig ended with spiraling solos, big brass sweeps, soaring backing vocals, pumping bass and a swirling Hammond organ—a performer at the peak of his powers.