Detroit,Mi(November 15,2019)-While most children toil away their early influential years playing with toys or participating within the team aspect of sports, Joe Bonamassa was different. Finding and developing his passion for the guitar at a young age, his career path had already been established. At the ripe old age of twelve, he found himself sharing the stage with the legendary B.B. King, an encounter that would put the kid on the fast track to stardom. Tonight, 30 years and 21 #1 albums on the Billboard Blues Chart later, Joe Bonamassa’s name is on the marquis at magnificent Fox Theatre in Detroit, announcing the Friday nights performance of the guitar virtuoso.
Bonamassa is not your prototypical “Grip it and rip it” guitarist by any stretch of the imagination. He is a true aficionado of the instrument and plays with precision and passion seldom seen from other artists. That alone would put him a cut above the rest of the main stream artists, but the man also does it with a style and grace that has allowed him to ascend to a legendary status amongst blues players worldwide.
Those lofty honors from his musical adversaries also have allotted Bonamassa the opportunity to assemble a world class backing band with some of the most highly regarded musicians in the business.Late Night with David Letterman’s Anton Fig (drums), Nashville recording legend Michael Rhodes (bass), Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and member of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Reese Wynans (piano/organ), Paulie Cerra (sax), Lee Thornburg (trumpet) and the soulful background singers Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins who round out this all-star lineup. With this much talent one stage at the same time, you would expect musical magic and on Friday, that is exactly what the 4800 fans who filled every seat in the venue got.
At 8:00, right on cue, the lights dimmed and band walked on stage and opened with romping cover of the Muddy Waters classic,”Tiger In Your Tank.”The high-powered opener set the stage for what was soon to follow, a night full of synchronized guitar work and mesmerizing solos by Bonamassa, mixed with the frolicking precision and support from his all-star musical counterparts.
The tradional cover was followed with a few songs from Bonamassa’s latest studio release, 2018’s Redemption. As the first hints of the funky rocking “Evil Mama,” the crowd was instantly drawn into the performance by the rhythmic bass line that Michael Rhodes was laying down. The high energy progressed with “Just Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Wont,” “King Bee Shakedown” and then on to the gentle and heart-breaking beauty of “If Heartaches Were Nickles .” Bonamassa’s voice was full and resounding, his soulfulness reaching deep into the darkness while resonating out into the far reaches of the upper levels in the Fox Theatre.
After the invigorating fan favorite “This Train” slowed to a halt, Bonamassa invited a very special guest to the stage, Detroits own Jim McCarty. Known for his time spent with the Rockets, The Detroit Wheels and Cactus, he is often spotted throughout the Motor City making guest appearances or laying down a lick or two. But tonight it was going to be a little different, a showcase of two of the very best guitarists that have ever strapped up. Playing a cover of the Ann Peebles recorded classic, “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” McCarty and Bonamassa took turns playing lead. The two greats each played individual solos then playfully traded licks back and forth culminating with an epic jam session much to the delight of McCarty’s home time fans. Memorable moments deserve proper adulation and the crowd stepped up did their part with a rowdy standing ovation for the nights “dynamic duo’s” performance.
Ten songs in with over 90 minutes of music, Bonamassa still had a little something left and and unleashed a vicious one-two punch of John Mayall’s “Little Girl” and his own hit “The Ballad of John Henry”, both played on a very valuable black Les Paul custom, complete with a Nigel Tufnel-esque triple humbucker setup. This piece of guitar history is irrelevant to most, but to a true collector and afficianado it is considered a work of art and fits right at home in Bonnamassa’s personal collection. With horns and keys in full flight effect, “The Ballad ofJohn Henry” has never sounded so good, and despite being around for a decade now, remains Joe’s most recognizable song and a perfect main set closer.
After being persuaded by his fans to return, Bonamassa appeared and began the encore on stage by himself along with his acoustic guitar. With fire in his fingers and with as much intensity as any point in the evening, Bonamassa quite literally tore through a searing rendition of “Woke Up Dreaming.” He attacked the song fearlessly with all the precision and passion anyone could ask for from a true guitar tactician. It was an awe-inspiring moment that his fans soon won’t forget. The full band returned to wrap up the 14 song, two hour and fifteen minute set with the final number of the night, and one of our all time favorites, “Mountain Time.”
Joe Bonamassa was absolutely fantastic and his band was every bit his equal in their own right. The performance Friday was both audibly and visually stunning and highlighted the precipice of the endless talent all these gifted musicians possess. Some of us are old enough to be able to say we have seen some of the greatest blues players in history, tonight I added another.
If you ever have the chance to attend a Joe Bonamassa show, do it. You will then be able to say “Ive seen one of the all time greats,” just like the rest of us.