Live Last Night: Joe Bonamassa

Just like a football coach's son who ends up on the gridiron, Joe Bonamassa, whose dad owned a music store, was reared to rock.

Bonamassa chose to concentrate his fretwork in bluesy genres, and last year's death of Jeff Healey left him as the unchallenged champ of blues guitar's under-50 division. He did nothing to put his title belt in jeopardy last night at a sold-out Birchmere.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Constantly smiling and looking sharp in a white suit/black shirt ensemble from somebody's "Saturday Night Fever" collection, Bonamassa didn't look like he felt the blues. But, geez, can he play 'em. Backed by an attentive trio, he riffed and shredded and quick-picked his way through all sorts of blues styles.

"Blues Deluxe" was the sort of uptempo Delta blues purveyed by his hero, B.B. King. A cover of ZZ Top's "Just Got Paid" and "The Legend Ballad of John Henry," the Robin Trower-ish title track of his latest CD, showed how Bonamassa has mastered the electric power blues that was favored by so many arena bands in the 1970s but has since fallen out of mainstream favor.

And during "Woke Up Dreaming," Bonamassa occasionally wandered over to the side of the stage where he kept a theremin, making spacey noises and showing his debt to Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin.

To show his talents are tied to the pentatonic scale, Bonamassa sent the band off and picked up an acoustic guitar and went on a long and amazing high-speed run up and down the fretboard that owed as much to Jose Feliciano as it did Yngwie Malmsteen.

Because of his music-retail roots, Bonamassa, though only 31 years old, has been at the game for a while: YouTube has videos of him onstage with Danny Gatton as a pre-teen. While giving his fingers a break, Bonamassa told several funny stories about his early days as a guitar hero. He recalled playing D.C. for the first time as a 16-year-old, taking the stage at the late Bayou in Georgetown before a dream-crushing crowd of just 12 people.

"And one of them was my aunt," he said. "She called my mom up and said, `Maybe your son should go to DeVry!'"

But instead Bonamassa kept plugging in and plugging away, and in a few weeks he'll headline Royal Albert Hall. Wonder if his aunt will be there.


By J. Freedom du Lac |  March 31, 2009; 1:07 PM ET Live Last Night
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So where did he play?

Posted by: Hemisphire | March 31, 2009 1:21 PM

"...last night at a sold-out Birchmere."

Posted by: mrm0to | March 31, 2009 8:51 PM

He is amazing live....his playing has to be seen to be believed. Nice review, pretty on the mark.

Posted by: bmwwilson1 | April 1, 2009 11:16 AM

If the virtuoso violinist Niccolo Paganini was alive and playing blues guitar, I think it would have sounded pretty much like what I heard at the Birchmere last night (Tuesday). A friend introduced me to Bonamassa with his DVD "Live at the Rockpalast" about five weeks ago. I thought his performance on the DVD was jaw-dropping. Last night's was even better. I'm not sure I know sufficient adjectives to describe this guy's talent. On top of that, he looked like he was having an absolute blast.

Posted by: GaryD3 | April 1, 2009 11:52 AM

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