Joe Bonamassa | Live At The Greek Theatre | 9/10
Photo credit: Christie Goodwin
“Playing blues music, it’s timing,” explains B.B. King in the archival news clip that opens ‘Live At The Greek Theatre’. “You don’t always know where the children get this from, but all I know is he got it,” the blues legend says of Joe Bonamassa – who, at the time, was 13.
Fast-forward 25 years to 2015 and Bonamassa, now a blues legend himself, embarks on a US tour celebrating the music of the ‘Three Kings’: B.B., Albert, and Freddie. The 14-date trek culminates at The Greek, an historic Los Angeles amphitheatre that proves to be the perfect setting for this celebration of equally historic music.
But this beautifully filmed live concert – the classic cinematography perfectly capturing the open-air arena and onstage virtuosity – isn’t just a visual treat. With the audio produced, as ever, by Kevin Shirley, these 21 songs sound glorious. And it’s not all down to the man at centre stage; every member of his 10-piece band, which includes three backing singers and a horn trio, plays an integral part in making this music pack as much emotional punch as it did half a century ago.
Just listen to the sunny sax solos of Paulie Cerra and Ron Dziubla on jubilant set opener ‘See See Baby’. Or to the conversation between Bonamassa’s Flying V and the soulful voices of Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae, and Juanita Tippins at the end of ‘Breaking Up Somebody’s Home’. Or to the effortless manner in which the core musicians – drummer Anton Fig, bassist Michael Rhodes, keyboard player Reese Wynans, and guitarist Kirk Fletcher – pull off tastefully understated (‘I’ll Play The Blues For You’), badass boogie (‘Angel Of Mercy’), good-time gospel (‘Ole Time Religion’), and old-school 12-bar blues (‘Nobody Loves Me But My Mother’) alike.
Still, there’s good reason Joe Bonamassa’s name’s on the marquee – despite the sublime musicianship going on all around him, it’s impossible to ignore the man in the shades. As always, his playing is even more impressive than the collection of vintage guitars he plays, sometimes with flamboyance, sometimes with restraint, always with effortless precision. Whether he’s ripping up ‘I Get Evil’, soaring with ‘Never Make Your Move Too Soon’, or cutting through ‘Lonesome Whistle Blues’, he makes it look so easy. But most impressive is his performance on set closer ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ which features playing as impassioned as his bluesy vocal.
Bonamassa, clearly, has still got it.