Joe Bonamassa brings his Always on the Road Tour to Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY
Running this site is a lot of work. In addition to the real job, I also edit, review, write, photograph, post and secure the assignments. I won’t lie, it can sometimes be a burden, albeit an enjoyable one. Having said that, sometimes an opportunity comes along that is so unique, so wonderful…it makes it all worth. This show is one such opportunity. I’ve been a Joe Bonamassa fan for at least 15 years. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him multiple times in the past and I have never heard a bad note. I knew that with Rupp Arena cut in half, allowing for a more intimate theater feeling, this show has all the makings of a show for the ages.
If you’re unaware, Joe Bonamassa is a blues man in every sense of the word. So when his current tour rolled out, to use a horse reference since were in Kentucky, I was chomping at the bit to experience this one. Joe plays two sets on this tour. One acoustic. One electric. That works for some artists, some it doesn’t. So I was excited to see how the night would unfold for Joe and how the music would come across live. Of course I’ve seen the DVD An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House, so I knew coming in it would be appealing, but sometimes you have to see or hear something yourself to fully comprehend it’s greatness. Also, if you’re unaware, for all intents and purposes, the first part of the night on this tour recreates the setting within that DVD.
First up is the acoustic set. With one lone spot light, Joe took the stage with one of his classics as he began with Woke Up Dreaming. This would be your only chance to see Joe go it alone with a song in the acoustic set, as the band slowly took their spots for the Bad Company classic Seagull. That song has been a part of my entire life and Joe’s version is always fantastic. Hearing it live with all the different instrumentation was fantastic. The dynamics of having multiple acoustic instruments was an incredibly experience.
Accompanied by a banjo, a percussionist, a piano and a juice harp; Joe and the band tore through Jelly Roll with an impressive fury. Being from, as well as in Kentucky, seeing the banjo on Jelly Roll and the mandolin on Black Lung Heartache certainly made me smile. Speaking of Black Lung Heartache, this far into the set, this song is the most reworked version and captures the emotion, perhaps better than Joe’s original version. A definite highlight for me.
The old school western bar room piano intro into Jockey Full of Bourbon was equally whimsical and entertaining live. With the Derek Sherinian’s piano driving the song into the chorus, it allowed the tremendous musicians onstage to have a little moment of their own and it was captivating. A song that I do enjoy, but have often overlooked, suddenly has a new life for me and it’s amazing.
Ending up the acoustic set was the trio of Dislocated Boy, an awesome version of Ball Peen Hammer and the upbeat fully engaging Athens to Athens. Overall, the set was crisp, clean and fascinating. In a stripped down, re-imagined setting like this; the music is the focal point and there is nothing to take away from it. There’s no flashing lights, no headbanging, no flying dragons, pigs or blimps. It’s just the band, the music and a beautiful setting. What more could you ask for?
Joe Bonamassa Acoustic Set:
Oh right, you could ask for a full-on, plugged in, turned on, fully electric butt-whoopin’. My guess at this point, was we were about to get one.
Kicking it into overdrive, Joe and the “new” band come out full throttle with an energetic, yet always classy version of Dust Bowl. It’s here I want to interject a bit about how Joe has evolved over the years. When he began his career, his playing was always clean and emotional, but his voice was more coarse, more Muddy Waters blues than his current sound as it is now. Over the years, Joe has elevated himself by honing his craft and polishing up his vocal into a smoother, easier listening style. Perhaps he’s more akin to Eric Clapton and Paul Rodgers now, than the soulful, gravelly Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf these days. Within that, I feel, lies the secret to Joe’s success.
After an astonishingly perfect rendition of Oh Beautiful and a gritty version of Who’s Been Talking, Joe showcased why he’s one of the best blues players on the planet. His rendition of the classic Jeff Beck Group’s Blues Deluxe has always been and always will be a highlight for me. His playing is unbelievable and a moment in the show that I don’t think can ever be removed. It’s as iconic to Joe as say Layla is to Eric Clapton. Playing with the audience, Mr. Bonamassa is pushing and pulling the tempo of the solo. The band takes full advantage of the dynamics of the song as they are continually raising and lowering their volume to accent Joe’s soloing. As I said, it’s pretty unbelievable and truly must be seen and heard to fully appreciate.
Next came a killer (yes I said killer, sue me) light show to go along with Slow Train. While the lights were to stimulate the crowd, the ever churning sounds of the Slow Train a’coming were ever building that momentum. Then, as the sound erupted into a crescendo, it covered the crowd like a wave of water. It was simply stunning.
Following that up was a funk filled rendition of Love ain’t a Love Song. Which ended in a funky, rhythmic battle of a drum solo that featured Tal Bergman and Lenny Castro trading beats and thoroughly enjoying themselves. The light show that accompanied the drum battle was exceptional, so kudos to the light guy!!
Bringing it back down in tempo, the band brought the more soulful, smooth flowing blues back in with Sloe Gin. This track, from the first note I ever heard, has been a personal favorite and it had the crowd in a trance. As if they were in shock, which I suppose is possible. It was as if each member of the crowd were snakes and Joe was the snake charmer. For me, the smooth tones were the highlight of the set for me. At least thus far. More on that in a bit though.
Ending the main set, the band brought the aggression back, as they tore into a blistering version of The Ballad of John Henry. If the groove and main riff of that song doesn’t move you, you’re a goner. If the psychedelic solo with the theremin and Derek Sherinian’s organ playing don’t blow your mind, hang it up. You’re done. There’s nothing left to add, except maybe, wow. That is all I can really say. I’m still reeling after that punch.
I mentioned a couple of highlights earlier, now let me tell you about THE highlight of the set. Joe came back out by himself for the encore and was met with a rousing, standing ovation before he settled into the instrumental Django. What he does and is able to do with the notes on this track, particularly live, is breathtaking. Accompanied by Derek on the keyboards shortly into the song, the atmospheric beauty created is almost too much to take in. Sheer beauty in an audible experience is about the only way to sum it up. If you’re unfamiliar with the song, it’s included in Joe’s back catalog on the You & Me album. I can’t say this strongly enough; find it, buy it. I’ll even make it easy for you, click here to buy it.
Django immediately led into another Bonamassa back catalog beauty in Mountain Time. This one has evolved a bit over time and it gets more perfect with each tour. Every musician on the night joined onstage to form a seven-piece ensemble. It was gorgeous, but in all honesty, I was still high on the magic of Django. A very fitting way to bring to close a truly magical night.
Joe is a legend in the making. DO NOT miss him if he comes within a 250 mile radius of you. The production and musicianship are well worth the price of admission. Click here for more tour dates.
Joe Bonamassa Electric Set: