By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa
Venue: Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, Florida–February 24, 2020
Fresh from the Keep the Blues Alive At Sea VI Cruise, looking tan-faced and sporting an elegant blue suit and wrap-around dark shades, Joe Bonamassa rolled into Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, Florida, to a sold-out show. The evening of February 24th was the first of two night performance, as Bonamassa has quite a following in the Tampa Bay area. He will be continuing his Spring Tour until the end of March, when he performs in Seattle on March 21st, before embarking in April for a European Tour. Yes, Joe Bonamassa is probably the hardest working man in blues, often performing 200-plus gigs a year! With quite a social media machine behind him, he is busy cranking out studio and live albums at a rapid pace, and still finds time to collaborate with friends like Beth Hart (you can see Rock At Night’s review of her in London) and supergroup Black Country Communion.
Coming out on stage performing Muddy Waters’ “Tiger In Your Tank”, Bonamassa was flanked by what may be the best support band in the business! Behind two podiums with the initials “J.B.” stood Lee Thornburg, trumpet player (Tower of Power, Supertramp), and Paulie Cerra, sax player (Larry Carlton, Keb’ Mo’); on the drum riser, Anton Fig (David Letterman Show, B.B. King); behind the Hammond B-3 and keys, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, Reese Wynans (Double Trouble); the mighty bass, Michael Rhodes (Johnny Cash, Stevie Nicks); and from Sydney Australia and singing back-up, Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins.
One of the favorites in the early evening was Bonamassa’s rendition of Kenny Neal’s “If Heartaches Were Nickels’, which he performed a guitar solo with exquisite precision and tone. Singing a beautiful solo reminiscent of Clare Torry in Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky’, Jade MacRae, garnered whistles and a standing ovation.
Switching out guitars, which appeared to be for every song, Bonamassa segued into the rocking “Don’t You Lie to Me (I Get Evil), by ol’ Tampa blues singer, Tampa Red. The audience seemed entranced during the performance and few cell phones were raised, recording the show.
Two of my favorite songs of the evening was a soon-to-be-released song “Conversation With Alice”, which had a contemporary blues or 70s rock feel (think Steely Dan) and the epic “Blues of Desperation”, which began with a psychedelic guitar and later segued into full-blown rock, accompanied by lasers and white swirling lights on the stage floor. The song featured Arabesque and synthy guitar riffs, showing Bonamassa’s mastery of the guitar, and demonstrating why he is the best blues guitar player of his generation. Actually, during the entire evening, I kept thinking, “Really, he is better than Stevie when it comes to ‘soul’ and skill on the guitar.”
The evening progressed with more welcomed covers such as Tim Curry’s “Sloe Gin”, Delaney & Bonnie’s “Well Well” and Willie Dixon & Memphis Slim’s “I Can’t Quit You,” Bonamassa kept the classics alive and well, as each song was beautifully embellished with the band’s horn section, back-up singing, and rhythm, which created a full orchestral and gospel feel, reminiscent of my memory of Joe Cocker’s albums from the 1970s.
After several standing ovations and plenty of whistles and cheers, Bonamassa chatted with the audience asking, “How are you feeling tonight? Nice to see you again! We’ve been coming here to Ruth Eckerd Hall a long time! Two nights.”
He continued saying that he spent the last couple of days in the area and had been “kicked out of the bar two nights in a row.” The audience roared with laughter and clapped.
A man from the audience yelled out, “Do you like ‘Freebird’?” and Bonamassa quickly retorted, “I do not! Fuck you!” He explained he’d never play it no matter “how many Drambuies” he had and later apologized about swearing, saying his “mom was in the audience.”
Bonamassa introduced his esteemed band and even noted that keyboardist Reese Wynans “grew up near Clearwater.” Finally he asked, “And who I am ladies and gentleman? My name is Joe Bonamassa!”
Another highlight of the evening was “I Can’t Quit You Babe” which featured a violin-like guitar solo, which again, garnered a round of claps. The band ended with “Just Got Paid” and took a brief break until an encore featuring “Woke Up Dreaming” and “Mountain Time.”
Joe Bonamassa never disappoints and proves time and again why he is the master of contemporary blues—and one of the top five guitarists alive today. This is a must-see show for all blues-rock fanatics and those that enjoy good, solid rock music.
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