In a recent interview, Joe Bonamassa mentioned that within the first 30 seconds of a performance, he can tell whether the crowd is going to connect with him to urge it on. The packed house passed the half minute rule at the Arlington Theatre Wednesday night, as the blueswailing Bonamassa sang and played with an inspiration and drive that created a symbiotic music fest between artist and fans.
Having done 24 shows within five weeks has honed the skills of Bonamassa’s rhythm team of Anton Fig/dr, Michael Rhodes/b, Reese Wynans/p-B3 along with the pumping horn section of Paulie Cerra/sax and Lee Thornburg/tp. With the extra vocal texture supplied by Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins and a rotating team of guitars including “Amos,” “Treasure” and “Spot,” Bonamassa opened his sweltering 2 hour show with a rollicking “This Train” and smoky “Mountain Climbing” that mixed boogie-ing linear and string-aching twists and turns.
Wynan’s keyboards provided extra shadows for the ominous “Blues of Desperation,” and Bonamassa, underappreciated for his vocal chops, snarled like a panhandler on the tale of woe “No Good Place for the Lonely” and formed a haunting chorus with the ladies on the harrowing “How Deep The River Charms.” With his guitar meowing like a crying kitten, the horns wailed and rhythm team thundered out a South Side of Chicago special “Angel Of Mercy” and the leader let everyone stretch out and show off their impressive chops on the swampy “Breaking Up Someone’s Home.”
On an inspired night as such, Bonamassa is able to demonstrate that rocking guitar solos aren’t merely chop fests, but six string stories to tell. Even on pieces like the shuffling “Hidden Charms” and the 8 beat to the bar Crescent City Special “Boogie With Stu,” he can run up and down the guitar neck like a harpist or relentlessly attack a single note like a hard hatted jack hammer operator, with all of it fitting together like threads in a Raphael tapestry.
On the closing “How Many More Times/The Hunter,” with his Fender both fret-filled and frantic, Bonamassa shouted out the blues as on this closer just as tenderly as he caressed the lyrics and strings on the encore “Hummingbird.” The fire hazard alarm was on high alert on this torrid evening both inside and outside the Arlington this Wednesday in Santa Barbara.