Joe Bonamassa is an interesting kind of famous. On the one hand, you can say his name to many music-loving folk and receive a blank stare in response. On the other, he can sell out the Paramount Theatre with a bottom ticket price of $102. Which is to say: To know him, apparently, is to love him.
Saturday night, Aug. 26 at the Paramount, the blues rock guitarist and his crackerjack band delivered a slick and appealing two hour and 20 minute concert, and the avid fans in the crowd would have been happy to stay for much more.
The show’s production values were high, featuring impressive lighting (often synced to the music), a light wood floor, a lush curtain at the back and a well-designed set up for the band that allowed Bonamassa plenty of room to roam — in a suit and sunglasses — as he shredded.
And shred he did. Playing an array of different guitars over the course of the evening, Bonamassa brought creativity and energy to every solo. On occasion, the band dropped out and Bonamassa played quiet, technically masterful, fully engaging solos. These well-placed moments provided short breaks from the roar of sound the band produced throughout the night while also amplifying the fact that Bonamassa’s talent is not simply a matter of amplification.
The guitarist surrounds himself with top notch talent. His keyboardist, Reese Wynans, was a member of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble until Vaughan’s untimely death. He played a number of fleet-fingered solos over the course of the night. Bassist Michael Rhodes held things down on the bottom with a sound you could feel in your chest. And the outstanding drummer Anton Fig — longtime member of David Letterman’s house band — was a delight all evening, playing with boundless energy and securing the groove for Bonamassa’s explorations.
The band also included Lee Thornburg on trumpet and trombone, Paulie Cerra on saxophones, and a trio of backup singers from Australia — Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins — who delivered powerhouse vocals and a different step touch dance for every number.
From my seat in the loge, in direct line with speaker arrays on the stage left side, the mix was muddy throughout the night. The horns were hard to hear and most of the lyrics were lost in the wall of sound. Bonamassa has an excellent voice for shouting the blues and singing hard-edged rock and roll, but what he might have been singing about was unclear most of the time. This, of course, was no hindrance to fans more familiar with his extensive catalogue of music.
The standing ovation at night’s end was one of several standing Os the crowd offered up over the course of the night. Bonamassa and company earned each and every one of them.