By Jonathan Tully | November 23, 2011
There was a point during Joe Bonamassa’s show on Tuesday – he was playing “Sloe Gin”, considered one of the best songs to see this blues-rock guitarist play live. The crowd was mostly silent, except for the occasional whoop when the music got the better of a fan and that fan had to let loose his or her appreciation.
Those fans were shushed.
Bonamassa is one of those rare musicians where you don’t want to miss a single note he plays. (And, frankly, that can be a true challenge, considering he can play so many.)
At the show at the Kravis Center, Bonamassa showed why a lot of people consider him a rightful heir in the lineage of great guitarists – stretching from the likes of Robert Johnson and Django Reinhardt, through Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan and on down.
Bonamassa is clearly worthy of that praise, but he is also one of the most respectful musicians of those who’ve come before. His style bounds from straight blues to ‘70s classic rock to a mix of blues and Americana, the last of which dominates his new LP, Dust Bowl.
The newer songs, such as “Slow Train”, “You Better Watch Yourself” and the title track of the new LP, were as well received as his more recognizable songs – and the crowd clearly knew Bonamassa’s work. The Kravis’ audience was extremely respectful and knowledgeable, cheering loudly between songs, but at times completely rapt by the talent on stage.
The guitarist cuts a great style on stage – slicked-back hair, sunglasses, jacket, button-down shirt and shoes polished so well the stage lights were reflecting off them. That just adds to the whole atmosphere of the show, although seeing someone who looks like Joe and whose musical style incorporates not just American but also British and European influences may be confusing to some – as Bonamassa relayed.
“This woman comes up to me in the hotel and says, ‘We’re so glad you came here all the way from the U.K.,’ ” he said. “I thought, well, we did just play London before our latest American leg. And she said, ‘You don’t sound British.’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah. I was born in Utica, N.Y.’ ”
That’s another fun thing to find out about Bonamassa – it’s rare you see a musician with his comic timing. Before playing “The Ballad of John Henry”, he spoke about how that song was the closest he’d come to a hit in his career: “Twelve albums. One hundred and thirty-four recorded songs. Not. One. Hit.” He then proceeded to act as though he were patting his own back.
That sense of fun extended to his playing. Before diving headlong into a cover of The Who’s “Young Man Blues”, Bonamassa had a playful musical exchange with drummer Tal Bergman – at one point, Bonamassa played the immediately recognizable lick from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, at which point Bergman mocked as if he were crying, then responded with the unmistakable drumming style of Zeppelin’s John Bonham, a la “Moby Dick”.
When it came right down to it, though it may not have been the exact same path that many of his forefathers had taken, Bonamassa had achieved what most bluesmen want: To leave the crowd with smiles on their faces.