SPRINGFIELD – Joe Bonamassa took the crowd by surprise. The house lights had barely dimmed at Symphony Hall on Thursday night when the blues-rock guitarist came barreling out of the gate with a full band blow-out of “Cradle Rock.” In fact, fans were still scurrying to their seats when Bonamassa unleashed the slow blues of “So Many Roads.”
It was just the beginning of what would be a solid two hour set of blues and classic rock sounds delivered by the rising guitar star. It seems Joe Bonamassa has taken the blues world by surprise as well. On the strength of 20 years of touring (he was a prodigy opening for B.B. King at age 12), and with the marketing push of a televised 2009 performance at Royal Albert Hall (that featured a duet with Eric Clapton), Bonamassa is suddenly all the rage. Ten years ago, when he played a free show at Theodores’, few would have guessed he’d turn into a sought after performer in the U.K. and command headlining status a few blocks away at Symphony Hall. It’s a credit to his skill and endurance that Bonamassa’s star is now starting to shine.
He was backed by keyboards, bass, and drums, and while all the players were strong and Bonamassa’s vocals were serviceable, the star of every song was whatever guitar the slight, well-dressed six-stringer was holding at the time. Bonamassa blistered through “If Heartaches Were Nickels” and “Steal Your Heart Away” and turned “Sloe Gin” from a slow-blues number into a classic rock monster. He played 45 minutes straight before acknowledging the crowd. “Good evening, Springfield,” he said, pointing out that the band had been in town for two days.
“We wanted to see the sites. We met a nice woman who said we had to go to Red Rose, but not to go any further.” Bonamassa used a violin bow on “The Ballad of John Henry” a song that was recently feted by Total Guitar Magazine for being one of the Top 50 riffs (#12) of the last decade. He moved to Mose Allison’s “Young Man’s Blues,” most famously covered by The Who (and Bonamassa’s version was more like the rock legends’) before trading his electric guitar for an acoustic and proving himself to be one of the premier guitarists of the day.
While Bonamassa might not bring anything new to the blues-rock genre, he is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, there is no denying that he can play. During “Woke Up Dreaming,” he went on a run that was nothing short of remarkable in terms of speed, tone, and finesse. The display garnered him yet another ovation and the crowd remained standing through “Mountain Time,” and the two song encore which included “Bird on a Wire,” and “Just Got Paid.”