Joe Bonamassa is the premier generation X blues rock guitarist and began his career at the age of twelve when he opened for B. B. King, in 1989. Since that time he’s put out thirteen studio albums, with his most recent, Redemption, along with collaborations with other artists, like Beth Hart and Glenn Hughes. On November 27, 2018, he was playing a familiar venue, in Portland, Oregon, where this writer has seen him perform twice previously. The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall is a nearly 3,000 seat beautiful historic venue in down town, with ample reasonable parking across the street.
The show was sold out with scalpers non-surreptitiously hawking and buying tickets in front of the box office. Doors opened at 7:00 PM and the show began promptly at 8:00 PM, when Joe and the band walked out onto a darkened stage. “King Bee Shakedown” from Redemption, his 2018 release of original material, was the opening song. It began the show with a bang as Joe played some 1950’s style rock and roll, with keyboardist extraordinaire, Reese Wynans hammering the ivories ala Jerry Lee Lewis.
The next three numbers were also from the Redemption album as Joe demonstrated why the venue was sold out. The lighting was as impeccable as the musicianship creating visually synonymous color schemes to compliment the music. Over the decades lighting has evolved as much as the sound systems, graduating from amoeba’s generated from diverging clock crystals containing oil soluble dyes and water projected by overhead projectors onto the performers and a screen behind them to complex computer generated amazingly complex lighting systems.
By the fifth song Joe changed guitars to a yellow Gibson flying V as the band dove into Albert King’s “I Get Evil.” Bonamassa wailed on his axe until it screamed mercy and then he began singing “No don’t you lie to me, because it makes me mad, I get evil as a man can be.” The next couple of numbers were from Blues of Desperation, including “No Good Place For the Lonely,” with an extended guitar solo along with “How Deep This River Runs.” The latter song is a sorrowful sounding song featuring Australian backup singers, Juanita Tippins from Sydney and Jade MacRae from Melbourne singing “how deep this river runs” over and over until the song finally ends in a crescendo of sound.
Bonamassa’s perfectionist performance professionalism is apparent in every aspect of the show. He is a gear-head who considers his hobby of collecting vintage guitars as important if not more than his actual guitar playing. Once again Joe paid homage to one of his guitar heroes Albert King.with “Breaking Up Someone’s Home.” Albert was one of the three blues Kings, along with Freddie and B.B., even though he considered himself more of an R&B artist. Bonamassa picked out power peals on his guitar as the band jammed for nearly ten minutes, with Lee Thornburg on trumpet and Paulie Cerra on sax blowing their lungs out, as the girls sang, “breaking up someone’s home,” repetitively. The jam concluded with bassist Michael Rhoades thumping a dominant beat, as Anton Fig hammered his drums like a Viking Hortator.
Joe told the crowd that it was the 108th show of the year until it concludes with the 112th. Then he talked about the first time that he remembers playing in Portland, Oregon, at the Roseland Theater as the opening act for Buddy Guy. When he came on he was introduced by an excited DJ who mistakenly called him John Bonamassa instead of Joe. Then he introduced all the band members before beginning “Slow Train,” from 2011’s Dust Bowl. After the locomotive mimicking introduction Bonamassa pulls out all the stops as he dove into a mesmerizing sonic romp exemplifying his guitar virtuosity. It was time to give homage to another of his primary influences and important mentor, the late great B.B. King, in the form of “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother.” Bonamassa began slow and then worked his way into a frenzy, that exploded with passion, as Wynan’s fingers delicately danced on the keys, until Joe began playing like a madman through to the song’s conclusion.
“Little Girl” was from 1966 when “John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton,” was released. After all the jamming it was a short and intensely to the point tune, with Joe leading the band with his guitar. “Last Kiss” from 2009’s The Ballad of John Henry was a fitting song to conclude with as he sang “And I don’t mind stealing the last kiss before I die hey yeah, I’ve been knocked down, stood up, all in the name of goodbyes.”
After the band left the stage the sold out crowd clapped, screamed, whistled stomped and shouted until the band returned and began playing “Well Well,” a Delaney and Bonnie cover from 1972, back in the day after they were part of Eric Clapton’s band. The last song of the night was “Mountain Time,” from 2002’s So It’s Like That. It’s one of those songs that catches your attention because of the mellowness, compared to the intensity of the rest of the night’s performance. The slow melodic beginning had Joe passionately singing, “Now I hate the city and I love the country, and I love that feeling on that mountain high.” After a ten minute exploration of almost every musical possibility that hadn’t already been covered, the band exploded into gorgeous peals of sound that left the audience completely satisfied when the performance concluded.
Review by Bob Gersztyn