Joe Bonamassa Live in Fort Lauderdale
This was my favorite Joe Bonamassa concert that I’ve ever seen. I’m not just saying that. It really was.
There are many reasons why. Let’s start with an obvious one for me.
I won’t lie. I had amazing seats, close to the action and centered. I’m not bragging. But I feel I had to mention because I haven’t always had totally awesome seats.
It’s a different experience when you can see the beads of sweat pouring down Joe’s neck and can witness the passionate stretches of his fingers across the fretboards up close. It’s like watching a master painter create his masterpiece right there in front of you.
But it’s about so much more than just my seats.
I attended the second of two shows that Joe just played at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was a Saturday Night, February 18th. While I am sure the first show was probably as good, the one I attended just completely blew me away.
One thing that amazed me, when I was thinking about it after the show was over, was that Joe didn’t play either “The Ballad of John Henry” or “Sloe Gin”, arguably two of the very best and most beloved songs in his catalog.
And I didn’t mind. Like, at all.
That’s how strong Joe’s song catalog has truly become. He doesn’t just have so much material to draw upon, but so much amazing material to draw upon.
To some extent, it doesn’t even matter what he plays, though we all have our favorite Joe songs, of course. But the sheer musical power is just so strong that he could probably play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and move the entire crowd to tears if he so chose (not that I’m suggesting it, Joe).
In terms of the material he did in fact play, the 2 hour and 15 minute set definitely leaned heavy on more recent era Joe material. Blues of Desperation, Joe’s latest studio release, was quite well represented, and that didn’t disappoint me in the slightest. It’s easily one of my favorite overall Joe albums to date. Seriously, does the man ever stop getting better at his craft?
The highlight of that segment to me was “Blues of Desperation” – the song – which somehow manages to be just so impressively atmospheric AND rocking at the same time. Haunting. The changes in the song’s tone and dynamics are just pure goose-bump-induction city.
I am not exactly sure what the heck Michael Rhodes was doing with his bass during that tune – hitting it with some kind of bow or tuning fork? – but the effect was eerie and magnificent. Joe regularly calls him the best bass player in the world. I know he’s damn good.
The song “Blues of Desperation” doesn’t sound like anything else in Joe’s catalog, but it’s impressive ability to draw on traditional blues, rock, world music, and even 90s-style alternative grunge just amazes me. In my humble opinion, Joe the songwriter has become as good as Joe the guitarist. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.
“Love Ain’t a Love Song” was a another standout moment to me. One of my favorite tunes from Different Shades of Blue, I felt like Joe took the solo to another level this time. His control over dynamics, and his use of harmonics, makes the room stand on edge unable to even catch a breath. The way he takes it from 1 to 100 in an instant never ceases to make my face melt and my brain explode (in a good way).
Joe’s band right now is really special. There’s no weak link. Everyone had the chance to shine, although in different ways. I do wish I could have heard a straight up killer bass solo from Michael Rhodes, but his groove is so heavy and melodic that his playing is a pure pleasure to listen to all night without a solo.
I’d also love to hear more up-front vocal work from Joe’s wonderful backup singers, Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins. The horn section was sublime, with Pauli Cerra rocking like a Charlie Parker possessed by a hangry demon, and Lee Thornburg’s hypnotic use of the muted trumpet on the electrifying Dust Bowl being other highlights of the night.
Speaking of which, everyone loved hearing “Dust Bowl” I think, judging from the crowd gasps when he started playing it. Such a cool moment.
Anton Fig recently spoke about how much fun he’s having playing that song. Speaking of Anton Fig – his drum solo. Damn. Seriously, if he went on a solo tour with nothing but drums, I’d totally go multiple times.
Did I mention everyone in the band? Oh wait. How could I forget. Ok, I didn’t forget: Reese Wynans. A genuine rock and blues legend known for his time with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, his solos like a mad blues organist on a mission from the blues gods. It’s such a treat to be able to see such a national treasure like Reese play live.
And, then, of course, there’s Joe. The man just sweats charm and talent on stage the way most of us just drip normal sweat during our morning workout. He taps into everything that makes genuine, honest to goodness, down and dirty blues music so great: authenticity. Virtuosity. Passion. Pure love and joy of music.
I’ll tell you one more thing. For me, at least, seeing Joe will never, ever get old. Here’s to many more shows in my future. Cheers.
– Brian M. Reiser