Joe Bonamassa – Roy Thompson Hall, Toronto, Ontario
For anyone who just reads the first paragraph of a review to get the gist of it, let me save you some time: I don’t care if you have to take money from your Grandmother’s purse, you owe it to yourself to see Joe Bonamassa at least once when he comes to your town. (And more if Grandma just won at Bingo!)
For anyone who enjoys blues and is not familiar with Joe, do yourself a favour and get acquainted with his music. He is one of those rare treats who realizes that just because he is skilled enough to play every note on the fretboard twice in 10 seconds, that doesn’t mean that he has to. As such, he tends to play only the notes that serve the mood of the songs. Don’t get me wrong; when he lets it fly, it’s awe-inspiring! But one of the great things about his style is that he knows when to turn it on, and when to back off to let the song come through. On top of all of that, he has an incredibly soulful voice, which he controls as well as whichever 6 string he happens to be wailing on at the time.
This seems consistent with the show that he puts on too. From the moment he took the stage alone with just an acoustic and his voice, Joe was in control. He did a few songs solo, then was joined by his drummer Tal Bergman (Billy Idol, Chaka Khan, Eric Johnson) who played accompaniment on bongos. This lasted for a few more songs; slowly building. The build continued until he was joined on stage by his bassist, Carmine Rojas (David Bowie, Julian Lennon, Rod Stewart), and his keyboardist Rick Melick (Andy Gibb, Jeff Baxter, John Denver). At that point Tal found himself behind his kit, while Joe’s guitars – and the venue – both went electric.
The sound in the venue was crystal clear, and the way that Joe controlled the emotion of the songs was incredible. In a genre that has always prided itself on being ‘cool’, Bonamassa is a true iceberg.
I love the analogy of Joe being an iceberg, because on the surface he is incredibly entertaining and skilled both as a vocalist and a guitarist. However, what you see and hear on the surface is just a small fraction of the depth that he has to offer. This was shown when he’d take a song that was building into a feverish pitch, then through volume and style he’d bring it down so quietly and so full of groove that you could clearly hear it when one guy in the crown gasped “HOLY SHIT JOE!”.
At that point, while still softly playing his solo Joe just slowly turned to the guy and smiled, which said both “Hell yeah…” AND “I’m glad you’re enjoying it”. It was a true moment for the crowd.
And there were more of these moments. Truthfully, the Joe Bonamassa band probably didn’t realize how many magical moments they had given us, because they were too busy having fun. The playfulness that was there between the band members made us all feel like we were all sharing something special. That we were in on a secret that the people on King Street behind us would kick themselves if they knew what they were missing.
And that’s why Grandma will forgive you if you go into her purse. Everyone should experience something that magical at some point.
Hell, you could even bring her.
Or I suppose you could just tell her that you did…