As soon as the house lights went down I could tell there was something special in the air, a certain electricity. This was my first time seeing Joe Bonamassa play at Clearwater, Florida’s Ruth Eckerd Hall, and I could just tell there were big things in store, that it was going to be a night to remember.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Joe came out on stage with his prized Gibson Flying V “Amos” and immediately launched into a frenetic, spirited version of the Freddie King classic “See See Baby”. The first soloist of the night were not Joe in fact but trumpet and horn arranger Lee Thornburg and saxophonist Paulie Cerra, pumping the jam full of jazzy sweetness before the Blues-Rock Titan himself took over and let Amos rip in its sheer muscularity and with surgical precision. What a way to start the night and it was only going to get better from here!
One of my favorite treats of the night was getting to hear some of the material from Different Shades of Blue, right now my favorite studio album, again. I was worried that he might drop much of this stuff from the setlists as we move further way from the album release date but there was no cause for me to panic. We got soaring, high on the energy renditions of cuts like “Hey Baby / Oh Beautiful!”, “I Gave Up Everything For You, ‘Cept the Blues”, Trouble Town, and Love Ain’t a Love Song. The gorgeous acapella section of Oh Beautiful into that high-octane pounding mega riff that I love so much was one of the most goosebump inducing moments of the night for me, and the solo on that song was like angels raining down from guitar shred heaven.
Another highlight of the night for me was Joe’s tender, heartfelt rendition of “Happier Times” which he delivered right in the middle of the set much to my delight. We got to hear some more Three Kings material, a welcome treat, as well as a spectacular encore of Muddy Waters’ “All Aboard”, but for me the most special moment of the night was without a doubt the hair-raising highly explosive segue of “Sloe Gin” into “The Ballad of John Henry” to close the main set. Joe’s razor-sharp soloing and soul penetrating vocals really set these two classics apart for me this night. No matter how many times I hear these songs, studio or live, I never get tired of them, but I think Joe and the band even brought a little extra intensity to them this time, as if he was playing for his life.
All in all the Clearwater show was a truly magnificent evening of music and just a total ball of fun. Joe Bonamassa continues to be at the top of his game, and on a Saturday night there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be then right there, watching Joe get the standing ovation he so clearly earned.
– Brian R.