Friday, April 1, 2011

Joe Bonamassa Live: Pittsburgh, March 2011

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?

The Inky Jukebox has been waiting years (years!) for Joe Bonamassa to come to town and from the looks of the sell-out crowd that packed every last nook and cranny of the esteemed and glorious old Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh on March 27, and awful lot of others have been too. To see him play in such an intimate venue is of course a delight, no-one being very far from the stage even in the back rows, but my guess is that he could easily have filled a larger hall, especially having spoken to a multitude of people here in town who could not get tickets, and the folks who drove for many hours to catch him here. Many of them had seen him before, and were not going to pass up an opportunity should he pass within 300 miles of where they live. This is what a loyal following looks like, and he did not disappoint.

The Carnegie Music Hall is one of those places where you feel like you’ve stepped back in time: it’s part of the Museum / Library complex built by industrialist / philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and as such is richly appointed with solid marble, chandeliers, and a great deal of baroque ornamentation. The auditorium itself features old crimson velvet upholstered seats with a floor section above which rise directly vertical two balconies. The front row of the first puts you about 12 yards from the center of the stage. One is reminded that back when this was built, there were no microphones, so that the plays, speeches, and orchestral concerts had to be heard clearly by everyone without the aid of electronics.

The Inky Jukebox was very happily and gratefully included in a meet & greet session before the show with the Man Himself, who came out to shake hands, sign autographs and shoot the breeze dressed in a casual track suit and sneakers. This, of course, is not how he dresses for the performance (for which he donned a typically sharp suit and snappy polished shoes). Bonamassa has a reputation as being one of the music industry’s genuine nice guys, and this was amply demonstrated in that he took his time with everyone he met, played the guitars some people brought before signing them (some had been signed a number of times before), and signed everything I brought, which, considering the armful of CD and DVD booklets I was clutching, was very generous indeed. Everyone got to take a photo. 

The crowd appreciated that Joe had done his homework and gave a history of his performances (complete with attendance stats) going all the way back to a small club called Moondogs nearly a decade ago. His banter prepped the throng for "The Ballad of John Henry" by informing us that its riff had recently been named the tenth best of the last decade in England, a semi-dubious achievement he plays up with good grace, I expect, everywhere. (It is perhaps the best of the decade; this or any other.)

Dust Bowl, Bonamassa's 12th album, released last week, debuted on the US Blues chart at #1 and British album chart at 12; he is much loved there.

"If Heartaches Were Nickels"

In the interviews he’s been doing to promote the Dust Bowl tour, he says he plays 20 songs per night, so The Inky Jukebox’s set list is a little shy. I know there were some up-tempo numbers I forgot to jot down, so with apologies for the omissions (if any reader knows what they are, please let me know!) here it is (not in order):

Slow Train
The Great Flood
Dust Bowl
If Heartaches Were Nickels
Ballad of John Henry
Happier Times
When The Fire Hits the Sea
Woke Up Dreaming
Steal Your Heart Away
Django / Mountain Time
So Many Roads
Sloe Gin
Bird On A Wire
So It’s Like That
You Better Watch Yourself
Just Got Paid

The Inky Jukebox was delighted with the range of material, especially as it featured so many of the classics. The Inky Jukebox’s date was very adamant that he play “Sloe Gin” but that sort of thing isn’t really in doubt. (Would a Bonamassa crowd actually riot if he didn’t play it? Picture the scene….)

"Sloe Gin"

We did hear others on the way up the grand staircase expressing their hopes for certain songs of a more obscure nature, and their dismay that he didn’t get around to delivering his ENTIRE OUVRE on the way back down, but he played for 2.5 hours, so you wonder what gives. The Inky Jukebox’s date, who is more used to metal shows, was stunned to see Joe take this performance on non-stop, providing during the band’s intermission, his acoustic tour-de-force “Woke Up Dreaming” which if you haven’t heard it played live, truly blows you away. It really does sound like at least three guitars are being played at once, when Joe makes bass, rhythm and lead all come out of one.

"Bird On A Wire"

True fans could tell what was coming based on which guitar the tech grabbed next, and it was fun to see a burly dude in the front row of the first balcony nearly rock himself off it during “Mountain Time,” and to be honest, I don’t blame him. I wish I could have done that but I was holding the Zipcam steady (well, as steady as I could). 

"Django / Mountain Time"

It would be easy to say that Joe was preaching to the choir, but apt to note that everyone was there to worship at the shrine. Raucous applause followed each song, and the only reason we weren’t all on our feet the entire time was that A) the seats were so damn comfortable; B) everyone had a great view without having to stand; and C) not a whole lot of folks under the age of 40. Nevertheless, it was welcome to be able to stand when Joe invited us to for the finale, “Just Got Paid,” though it must be said that dancing in 5” heels in the front row of the balcony with only a two-foot balustrade between you and — well, a nasty accident — is not easy. (Although I did manage to drop the Zipcam, sorry.)

"Just Got Paid"

For those who have only seen the DVD of Bonamassa's incredible show at the Royal Albert Hall, it was a treat to hear how he can still bring a huge sound with a mere four-piece band (with his partners-in-crime Carmine Rojas on bass and Rick Melick on keyboards, and joined on this tour by a capable Tal Bergman on drums). The RAH show has become a legend, and for good reason. If you want an introduction to what Bonamassa's all about, it is well worth checking out. (Click on banner below.)

If you have never been to a Bonamassa concert, you will never receive a stronger recommendation that you go. It’s worth every cent to see raw talent such as this at play. Because he sure doesn’t make it seem like work. It takes practice, practice, practice....

"Happier Times"

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