By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa
Review: Joe Bonamassa at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, Florida-March 29, 2021
Last year on February 24, 2020, Rock At Night reviewed one of Joe Bonamassa’s two-night, sold-out blues extravanganzas, which would turn out to be one of the last concerts of the year. By mid-March, the entire concert scene in America—including the Joe Bonamassa US Tour—was put on hiatus due to the COVID pandemic. During 2020, as live shows became livestream shows, the “busiest man in the blues business” was not idle at all. No-no. Lucky for us, he recorded the spectacular Royal Tea album prior to the pandemic, and released it in October 2020.
As a true musician’s friend, he was busy collaborating and mentoring other musicians, like Rock At Night fav’ Joanna Connor. With his non-profit organization Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation, he has raised thousands of dollars to benefit relief funding for musicians around the world. Musicians are essentially self-employed and not touring, selling merchandise, or performing live gigs have devastated the industry.
Fast-forward to March 2021, things are looking hopeful. Many Americans are getting vaccinated and socially-distanced gigs have emerged in areas, including Florida. Last night, Rock At Night had the pleasure of seeing Joe Bonamassa perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall to a “socially-distanced” sold-out crowd (there is a cap on attendees due to social distancing). The enthusiastic Clearwater crowd was treated to a “power quartet” as Bonamassa was flanked by three esteemed musicians—Anton Fig on drums; Steve Mackey on bass; and Jade MacRae on backing vocals.
Before the band emerged on stage, the theme song from Welcome Back Kotter roared over the P.A., bringing back memories of junior high school. The band then entered the stage with Fig and Mackey wearing face masks and Bonamassa and MacRae standing behind the microphones. Wearing an embroidered blazer, white pants and shirt, trademark dark shades, and slicked back hair, Bonamassa showed not only his virtuosity on the guitar but also his vocal chops. I was honestly impressed as he held an almost eternal long note on “Blues Deluxe”, which garnered a standing ovation.
Something that really stood out during the evening was the welcome repertoire of true rock songs—real hard rock versions of his songs. Having seen him several times in the past, blues or blues rock dominated the list. I wondered if his collaboration with Black Country Communion or Bernie Marsden and Pete Brown during the creation of Royal Tea might have influenced his live renditions. “Lookout Man” and the epic, almost Pink-Floyd-ish prog song “Beyond the Silence” from the album Royal Tea were standouts during the evening. Punctuated by the vocal harmonies of Jade MacRae, we were taken back to the era of classic rock, when the length of the song did not matter and the compositions were meaningful.
Bonamassa said after performing “Beyond the Silence”, “Some of you know this song from the last record and wondered why I put this prog rock song in the middle of the album. Well, because I fuckin’ wanted to!” And, honestly, I am glad he did.
Bonamassa introduced the band members individually and explained that Australian Jade MacRae was touring with the band last winter and had been stuck in this country ever since. Lucky for us, because her contribution to the concert added the cherry on top of the blues sundae.
Having just performed a couple of concerts in Georgia, he noted the audience really enjoyed the bluesy song “Wandering Earth”, and wanted to see Florida’s reaction saying, “If you fuckin’ hate it, we won’t play it again.” Well, the audience was captivated (no cell phones out at all) and roared with clapping and whistles at the end of the song. Standing ovations were prominent during the evening, especially for “Pain and Sorrow”, “Scuttle Buttin”, and “Blues Deluxe.”
During another very candid moment, Bonamassa explained the origins of the song “Miss You Hate You”. He noted the song was written a long time ago after his journalist girlfriend took up with a band member. I have omitted the wicked details, but you get the point.
Another notable song performed during the evening was “The Ballad of John Henry” with its really cool synth-pedal, guitar effects. It was totally heavy, hard rockin’, and never sounded better.
Overall, even though Bonamassa has not performed live gigs in awhile, he and the band never missed a beat. The quartet sounded phenomenal in fullness and technical musicianship. The repertoire of songs were good and heavy. Again, Bonamassa never disappoints.
Check out the album Royal Tea on Spotify
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