Joe Bonamassa

The Palace Theatre / Albany, NY

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At six P.M., the bar next to the Palace Theatre was six deep, and when I asked the hostess if we could get our names on a list for a table, she said, “You can try.” The joint down the block had an hour-and-a-half wait. By 7:50, both restaurants would be empty: everyone was seeing Joe Bonamassa.

The guitar god wisely divided his performance into acoustic and electric sets, and the impressive array of stringpower awaiting his quintet took my breath away. Bonamassa had what seemed like a baker’s dozen or more guitars; mando/banjo/fiddler Gerry O’Connor hung three violins alone, and among other things, Mats Wester produced a nyckelharpa, a keyed violin instrument I still haven’t figured out.

Particular crowd-pleasers included Robert Johnson’s evergreen “Stones in My Passway,” which Bonamassa infused with hefty doses of country and a bit of rock. On Bonamassa’s “Slow Train,” percussionist Lenny Castro’s gourd shaker and a particularly apt fiddle brought the train steaming across the stage, and Bonamassa’s a capella finish brought the blues back home where it belongs. His own “Athens to Athens” closed out the set with his country flag flying high: fiddle turns, washboard and spoons—this number would find a home in any Americana, folk or Irish festival.

After a short break, a Gibson Les Paul in hand, Bonamassa came back with a power-chord vengeance and a full band, including electric bass, horns and drums in addition to Castro’s percussion. Bonamassa showed his roots on a rendition of Otis Rush’s classic slow blues “Double Trouble”: at age eight, Bonamassa started out opening for B.B. King, and over the years has absorbed something from that master, although he’s more often compared to Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. When you’re in that rarified air, it doesn’t pay to nitpick.

The show’s closer, “So, What Would I Do,” (another beauty from Bonamassa’s pen) was strongly reminiscent of Ray Charles’ best—and not just because of the excellent keyboards from SRV’s Double Trouble alumnus Reese Wynans. Charles’ early career fused country with soul and blues, and the Genius likely would be pleased to have written this song. Melodic and heartfelt, this song stands out even in the crowded field of the Bonamassa catalogue—16 albums in about as many years.

His equipment truck reads “Joe Bonamassa, Always On The Road,” and that’s likely true. Bonamassa told Elmore he doesn’t stockpile songs, he writes them and records them; his last album took him off the road for just over two weeks. This is one hardworking SOB, and ticketholders get their money’s worth each and every show.

Apparently Bonamassa’s work ethic comes to him honestly. During the performance, one couple way in the front stood up and refused to sit, despite the ongoing entreaties of people around them. Soon, an imposing gentleman wearing Harley Davidson attire walked some 10 or 20 rows forward, spoke with them briefly but firmly, and they sat. Out on the street after the concert, my companion noticed the man and asked him what he’d said. Turns out the man’s a cop from upstate New York, and Joe Bonamassa’s dad. Like father, like son—always on the job.

– Suzanne Cadgène

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2 Responses

  1. This was one amazing performance by Joe and his band. In regards to the audience’s performance however, very disrespectful. Sitting for the entire show I dont understand that. The aucustic performance yes, electric set, no way. Joes music has many layers and is deep and rich with grooves that make you want to get up and dance. So we did. Joes Dad did in fact come ask us to sit down. I asked him why, he replied “Because Joe doesnt want any trouble”. I told him well, your son is a hell of a musician, Does Joe want us to sit down? He did not answer that. My guess is no.I told him his music makes us want to dance and he understood that as he said so and smiled proudly. Out of respect for Joe’s Dad, we sat. Not for the 2500 or so other “fans” of Joe’s music. Music is the soul that drives people, its the feeling, the thing that makes many peoples lives, it connects, the groove that makes you move. So the real story isnt just the performance of Joe and his highly talanted bunch, its the wonder of why so many people feel to conform to a bunch of zombies at a performance like this? You can say sit for the respect of those around you who cant see. I say get off your ass and move to the groove. If one couple feels the desire to dance then maybe, just maybe it’s okay to do so. Maybe, just maybe the other 2500 or so folks should have a little more respect for the artist. Listen, there are countless reviews out there that say Joe lacks a connection with the fans. Are they wrong? The artist feels the vibe the crowd gives off and maybe its not Joes fault, maybe its the fans telling him yeah we will show up but only show you we respect your talent at the end of song. Maybe I’m wrong and thats how he likes his fans to be, and he does lack the ability to connect with his fans. People are becoming more and more drone like, so show your feelings at these shows people. Dance, it may be the last time that you can.

    • OMG trying to sit and NOT dance to Slow Train acoustic was painfully painfully hard last night when we saw Joe last night in Boston at The Wang. You know everyone wanted to get up and dance! Finally during the electric set a man could not contain himself God bless his rockin soul and got up and started to dance and wow the audience was cheering him on because they were feeeling it too!