Photo by John Patrick Gatta
Already a star in Europe, Joe Bonamassa still flies under the radar in his American homeland. But, it’s not for a lack of effort.
As a self-contained creative and business entity, the 37 year old guitarist displays a tireless work ethic. In a career that found him onstage at 12, that includes playing around 200 shows a year and the release of 11 studio and 12 live albums, two collaborative efforts with Beth Hart, three as a member of Black Country Communion, two and a DVD with Rock Candy Funk Party plus nine solo DVDs.
With each musical venture, Bonamassa’s approach is to challenge himself in some way – writing, recording, performing. He arrived at Youngstown’s Covelli Centre in that mindset, on the last leg of his two set show – acoustic and electric.
With a four-piece ensemble backing him Bonamassa promptly started at 8 p.m. Following a visit to his past — “Dust Bowl” and “Jelly Roll” – he knocked out the title track from his latest album, Different Shades of Blue.
What worked for him in this format, and later when he returned to the electric guitar, was that his mastery on the instrument generally worked as one part of a musical unit as well as in deference to a song. Sure, he played solos that seemingly went on forever but they still didn’t overshadow the makeup of the live experience.
During the first set Gerry O’Connor (banjo, fiddle), Mats Wester (nyckelharpa) were featured. Percussionist Lenny Castro did a give-and-take with Bonamassa during “Dislocated Boy” while keyboardist Derek Sherinian slipped in a little of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” during his solo in “Happier Times.” The latter two rejoined the guitar slinger for the next set.
Going electric, Bonamassa wisely began with the opening numbers from the new album. Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” transitioned into “Oh Beautiful,” a knocks-your-socks-off blues rocker that’s heavy on groove and allows Bonamassa to shine. “Hidden Charms” moved from Chicago Blues to the influential strains of Eric Clapton, while “Gave Up Everything for You” took a reggae break that Jimmy Page could have written.
Similar to the first set, other band members were highlighted during the 70-minute electric portion. The fierce “Love Ain’t a Love Song” evolved from an organ solo to Bonamassa attempting to play the quietest notes of the night despite a rowdy crowd that didn’t understand when to shut up and a jam between Castro and drummer Tal Bergman before returning to the final verse and chorus.
By the second encore, the members of the acoustic and electric bands joined together for an extended “Mountain Time.” They were all smiling, knowing that it was another night of a job well done.