Saturday, January 24, 2015

Joe Bonamassa at Radio City Music Hall

Joe Bonamassa was born in New Hartford, New York. His parents owned a guitar shop, and so he started playing guitar at age four. His father exposed him to records by British blues rock guitarists. Bonamassa was finessing Stevie Ray Vaughan licks when he was seven and by the time he was 10, had caught the ear of blues legend B.B. King. When he was 12 years old, he had his own band called Smokin' Joe Bonamassa. The band gigged around western New York and Pennsylvania on weekends since he had school on weekdays. In 1989, at age 12, Bonamassa opened about 20 shows for B.B. King. Before he reached 18 years old in the early 1990s, Bonamassa’s recording career began with Bloodlines, a hard‐charging rock‐blues group also featuring Robby Krieger’s son Waylon and Miles Davis’ son Erin. Bnamassa's debut solo album, A New Day Yesterday, was released in 2000; his 15th and most recent album is 2014's Different Shades of Blue. At only 37 years old, after 25 years as a professional musician, Bonamassa is one of the most popular blues musicians in the country, with 11 #1 Billboard Blues Albums (more than any other artist), five consecutive “Best Blues Guitarist” wins and a top “Best Overall Guitarist” honor in Guitar Player’s Annual Readers’ Choice Awards, and recognition as Billboard’s #1 Blues Artist in 2010.

Bonamassa is 37 years old, but curiously most of his audience at Radio City Music Hall was much older than that. Towards the end of the show, Bonamassa brought out his mother because it was her birthday, and most of the audience was closer to her age. Perhaps the maturity of his audience was because the man in a three piece suit, open-necked white button-down shirt and sunglasses is not a pop star but a genuine latter-generation blues guitarist. In concert, Bonamassa's songs and musicianship fell somewhere between 1960s American blues guitarists and their British imitators, like a bridge between Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton. The concert began promptly at 8 p.m. with an hour-long acoustic set, followed by an 80-minute electric set. Most of the performance consisted of original songs, but Bonamassa also covered Daniel Lanois and Robert Johnson in the acoustic set and Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Otis Rush in the electric set. There was little show biz flash about the performance, and yet it was the ultimate in professionalism, sophistication and finesse. Bonamassa is a fine soulful singer and interpreter, and the acoustic and electric bands supported him solidly. During the acoustic set, he liberally allowed his band mates to share the spotlight, but for the electric set he gave the fans what they really seemed to crave, lots of wailing blues guitar. The clincher was the cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)" as the first of four encore songs. Bonamassa's show demonstrated that without moving in the pop direction of a John Meyer, a superb guitarist can impress a large audience.

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