Well, it’s been a great summer for blues fans, with the likes of Robert Cray, John Mayall, Robin Trower and Albert Lee coming to town with songs of six stringed joy. Closing up the summer of blues at the Greek was Joe Bonamassa, who between songs told the packed theatre that just 13 years (and 30 albums) ago, he was living just a few blocks away at a motel on Los Feliz and Vermont, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches between dreams of playing at the so close and yet so far venue. Dreams of blue can come true!
The 2 ½ hour concert was a tribute to the “Three Kings,” but not the ones from Orient far bearing gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold. The other Kings, Freddie, Albert and BB came from the south, and Bonamassa delivered their gifts painted in various shades of blue, with a swinging brush.
His rhythm team of Anton Fig/dr, Reese Wynans/key, Michael Rhodes/b and Kirk Fletcher/g created a variety of musical canvases, able to go make the blues jump (“See See Baby”), boogie (“Hideway”) and smolder (“Sittin’ On The Boat Dock”). The horn team of Lee Thorburg/tp, Paulie Cerra/ts-bs and Ron Dziuba/ts created a rich Memphis stew on pieces like “Lonesome Whistle Blues” and “Sitting on the Boat Dock” while vocalists Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins were able to soulful support on “Going Down” or take you to church with their tambourines on the baptizing “Ole Time Religion.”
As for Bonamassa himself, he switched between guitars more often than Neil Caffrey does with his ties, playing tribute to Albert on the “Lucy” flying V, BB on the Gibson “Lucille” and Freddie on shiney Les Pauls. He made the notes groan for mercy over Rhodes’ irresistible bass line on “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” and intimately picked and grinned as he changed dynamics at the drop of an E string on “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother” and while Wynans created sinister chords, Bonamassa delivered foreboding chords and vocals on “Braking Up Somebody’s Home.” And speaking of his vocals, he is an underrated master of an earthy delivery that digs deep into the Mississippi red clay as he wrestles like Jacob did on “Angel of Mercy” and hangs on to a crag for support on “Going Down.” He was a master of knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em on the six strings, causing every finger picking good solo make sense and never going overboard like a woman chatting endlessly on how beautiful she is. Bonamassa mixed spacious note selection with rapid fire runs like Monet going from single dots to strong strokes, creating an impressive and impressionistic masterpiece with each tune. This evening, Bonamassa showed his devotion to his music by even taking off his sunglasses for a moment to show that even his eyes were blue!
Closing with two regal masterpieces, “Born Under A Bad Sign” and (what else?) the thematic “The Thrill Is Gone,” Bonamassa was able to go into a complete circle on this full mooned evening, turning the grand Greek Theatre into a smoky Beale Street juke joint in which the entire genre of southern blues was initially born.