While recently watching Quinn sullivan,the 14-year-old guitar ace and Buddy guy protégé,I thought of Joe Bonamassa in his early days—not because sullivan sounds particularly like Bonamassa but because Bonamassa,too,was a dazzling guitar prodigy,blessed by the elders of the guitar pantheon and burdened by early expectation. sullivan should take note: Bonamassa is an example of a youngster with great promise who transitioned gracefully into middle age—he’s now 36—with both a career and his integrity intact. While watching Bonamassa play you get the sense he’s never lost that music-loving kid inside of him. He’s the genuine article through and through,despite the Max Headroom look and occasional swerves into cheesy axe-slinger theatrics or watch-me-go stuntguitar cheesiness. Bonamassa seemed genuinely moved by his reception over three tightly-packed nights at the Beacon. Each was a validation of how far he’s come,a show of solidarity with plenty of guitar-god friends sitting in,and a suggestion that he (still) hasn’t peaked and has a lot more room to explore,even with a body of solo work well into its second decade. the third night of the Beacon stretch brought the typically snarling electric drama as well as the country,folk and even prog-rock currents that Bonamassa has let course through his predictable,but never pedestrian blues-rock romps. a 17-song setlist reflected as much: jaunty standards (“Who’s Been talkin'”) mixed with weary,countryish songs (“Dust Bowl”) and slow,patient builds that began as flickering flames and raged into infernos (“Midnight Blues”). Drummer Tal Bergman,keyboardist Arlan Oscar Schierbaum and bassist Carmine Rojas played heavily and spookily,serving up sonic fields for Bonamassa to roam through—favoring fat,roofcrashing chords,delicate,quiet,moaning notes and everything in between. admirers showed up to a blues-duel throughout the run (Warren Haynes,EarlSlick and,on this night,Billy Squier and Blondie Chaplin),but no one upstaged Bonamassa.
During the show’s opening five-song acoustic set,with Bergman on percussion and schierbaum on piano,Bonamassa showed a less-obvious range and a brilliant command of acoustic guitar dynamics—from fleet,percussive plink-plinks to elongated twangs,sometimes ethereal and sometimes so intense and visceral that there’s little doubt he could keep pace with the instrument’s fleetest of finger. a long jam near the end of this sequence—”Palm trees,” “seagull,” “jelly Roll,” “athens to athens” and “Woke up Dreaming”—yielded to a breathtaking exchange between the three musicians in jagged,flicking-and-pounding conversation. Far be it for Bonamassa to deny his hard-won fans their electric axeman jollies,but if he ever promises an all-acoustic tour,then you can bet that the theatre would be just as packed. Chad Berndtson