Hard Rock Live In Hollywood, December 13, 2012
UG Team, on december 14, 2012 2 of 3 people found this review helpful
Sound: Joe Bonamassa has been in the music business in some capacity for over 20 years. His modern blues-rock style has captivated many, especially musicians like us. On this night, Joe was touring in support of his new DVD, "Beacon Theatre: Live From New York". He was playing at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, FL, a sub 5,000 seat arena, on December 13th, 2012.
Sound wise, I didn't always enjoy his tone. He took on an old style of tone that sounded very muddy to me, though I know that many players prefer this, so I will not fault him for it. He had three different Marshall half stacks as well as a fourth that I couldn't identify from my Vantage point. He used many pedals, though he usually stuck to an octave pedal, flanger, and delay. He used his wah pedal very little over the course of the evening. As a guitarist, he reminded me of Eric Johnson at many points throughout the night. He came across as a guitar virtuoso, less someone you party with and more someone you watch with awe. Since it was a concert setting, I wish he had not played as speedy as he did at some points because it was hard to catch the total message on a first listen, and at a concert, that's all you get.
Joe, along with his band, controlled his dynamics very well, though his Les Paul sounded like it was dying to be played loud. Overall, Joe Bonamassa soloed at a tasteful level far above the average guitarist but he didn't quite go over the top enough to be considered one of the greatest ever.
Vocally, Joe Bonamassa is talented. His voice is clear, articulate, and powerful. However, he was always trying to imitate old blues singers and I think that his talent was wasted on that. One reason for this is that old blues singers always sound truly hurt and crestfallen and Bonamassa couldn't nearly pull that off. If Joe tried to lessen this approach, he would be an above average vocalist at the very least.
Overall, Joe Bonamassa is an extremely talented musician and his playing mesmerized everyone at the venue. However, I prefer rockers who party with tons of stage presence, so he did not quite fit my personal preferences. Nevertheless, Joe Bonamassa sounded like one of the premier guitarists of this generation. // 10
Perfomance: The setlist for the night was:
01. Palm Trees Helicopters And Gasoline (acoustic)
02. Seagull (acoustic)
03. Dislocated Boy (acoustic)
04. Driving Towards The Daylight (acoustic)
05. Woke Up Dreaming (acoustic)
06. Slow Train
07. Dust Bowl
08. Who's Been Talking
09. Midnight Blues
10. The Ballad Of John Henry
11. Wee Wee Hours
12. second blues song (cont. of Wee Wee Hours)
13. Look Over Yonder's Wall
14. Blues Deluxe
15. Young Man Blues
16. Django / Mountain Time
17. Sloe Gin
18. Just Got Paid / Dazed And Confused
Joe Bonamassa performed alone on the first song of the night, sitting down after appearing on stage five minutes before show time.
As the second song started, his drummer accompanied him on the bongos, making for a nice Bad Company cover.
I thought that "Dislocated Boy" was better than "Seagulls" because the bongos meshed with the song a lot better, giving it a folky side next to the heavier tune, still acoustic, that is "Dislocated Boy".
"Driving Towards The Daylight" felt less bluesy than its predecessor's feel and was more focused on the vocals, and so was my least favorite song of his acoustic set. The bongo drummer was still present.
"Woke Up Dreaming" was Joe's final acoustic song of the night and it was his best. The faster paced beat made me foot stomp to it. The song was definitely bluesier than the others were, though the foot stomping beat made it feel folky to me, even though it probably wasn't supposed to. Joe played the main riff with many tricky hammer-ons/pull-offs, giving me my first glimpse at his virtuosity. This song received the most crowd applause of any of the songs from his acoustic set.
"Slow Train" was the first electric song of the night. For this song, Bonamassa used a 70's Reverse Firebird, the only song he would use it for during the show. This song set the tone for the rest of the night with a grinding blues feel with plenty of leads. "Slow Train" was Bonamassa's best song of the night vocally again setting a tone with his voice, one that imitates the African American blues artists of yesteryear.
I want to describe the opening riff to "Dustbowl" as doing an adequate job of personifying the dust bowl. This riff, to which the song refrains after every chorus, makes me feel like I am floating on a cloud. This was made possible because Joe used a Les Paul with a Bigsby here to make the impression. During this song, I notice the first quiet jam of the night; there would be many like this in other songs. Joe's dynamics are so low that his picking becomes louder than the notes at some points.
"Who's Been Talking" is a Howlin' Wolf cover with a main riff that is probably where Jimmy Page got his inspiration for his "Whole Lotta Love" riff. This song, while being a distinctive blues, rocks far more than any of songs preceding it. The speedy guitar solo at the back end of this song makes Bonamassa sound very similar to Eric Johnson.
"Midnight Blues" did a good job in that I pictured looking up at the stars when I heard this. The band maintains a tight hold on their dynamics here, making this one of the more pleasant quiet songs of the night. Overall, I would accord this as being above average for the night.
"The Ballad Of John Henry" is a heavy, grinding Rocker absolutely worthy of head banging. The verse provides the standard dosage of standard blues for this one. There is an interesting buildup to the chorus. Coupled with some of the most memorable lyrics of the night and a slide guitar solo, "The Ballad Of John Henry" was my favorite song other than "Just Got Paid".
Now, all of Joe Bonamassa's songs are bluesy (it is the niche he has filled in this boundless musical world), but this one is the most obvious. "Wee Wee Hours" follows the tried and true 12-bar blues without diversion or variation. While this song's structure is not unique to Joe, it is nice to witness how his impressive skills pan out over a simple layout, serving as an easy comparison to other guitarists, I guess. It is worth noting that this is the only song with a keyboard solo.
The song after "Wee Wee Hours" also followed a 12-bar blues with no variations, but this one was more upbeat with a cheerier piano and faster tempo. This song reminded me of Eric Clapton's "Tore Down". One thing I noticed on this song was that Bonamassa repeated his licks during his guitar solo more than normal; making them easy to remember so, I could spend more time having fun instead of trying to figure out his ever-changing licks.
On Freddie King's "Over Yonder's Wall", the first thing I noticed was the prevalent octave pedal Bonamassa was using, possibly a harmonizer. While he used effects like this on many songs, it was most apparent here. For this and the previous song, Joe used a type of Gibson ES. This song featured more piano than many of the others and while the pianist did not take a leading role of any kind here, it appeared notable. In one of his faster solo runs here, Bonamassa again sounded like Eric Johnson, and on a separate note, seemed to incorporate a type of blues sweeping, if that makes sense. At the end, Joe proved that he's still human. He took an extended final guitar solo and at the end, the rest of the band seemed to fade away and Joe was left trying to keep the vibrato up on his last note. Finally, Joe just let go of the note.
The next song was a Jeff Beck cover, "Blues Deluxe". Joe started with the typical my-guitar-sounds-like-a-violin volume knob bit. Later, the dynamics were kept low for most of this song and during these parts, Joe again sounded like Eric Johnson when he made his runs down the fret board to show off. At the end, Joe sang a cappella in his imitation blues voice three times for the crowd and then the band did the standard blues end-of-song progression.
For "Young Man Blues", Bonamassa brought out a white SG and the guy standing next to me said, "Oh sh**, he took out the SG. He's gotta be rocking now!" Indeed, the song was based on a heavy blues riff that was fun to listen to repeatedly. This song was somewhat unique in the way that it was formatted, at least compared to the other songs. Joe would play the riff-then there would be a short drum solo-then some hits-then Joe sang a verse a cappella - then a return to the main riff.
After that song, there was a real drum solo that was kind of interesting, but as someone pointed out, "It's time for the bathroom break." After the drum solo, Bonamassa emerged with an ESP style guitar and did a different violin bit with the keyboardist playing very long chords under him. In fact, relating to the guitar, Joe's bit here sounded more flute-like than like a violin. I was amazed at the sound he was able to get out of his guitar here, though he used a bevy of pedals. All of this was part of the song, "Mountain Time".
After "Mountain Time", Joe did his first Encore song, "Sloe Gin". Here, while his guitar was quiet, he somehow managed to peak. This song rocked at some points but it built up as if it was ready for an over-the-top moment that never came. While some say that Joe Bonamassa pushes the envelope, I wish that he had done a little bit more of that here. At the end, Joe attempts to throw his glasses into the crowd and he misses; the glasses falling on the stage, requiring him to throw them again.
Joe Bonamassa's final song was a medley of covers between ZZ Top's "Just Got Paid" and Led Zeppelin's "Dazed And Confused". This was my favorite song overall. The energy in the building was much higher during this song than any other. Bonamassa used his rhythm pickup with distortion sparingly throughout the night, but put it on full display here. To add to this, the weaving between the two songs was flawless as well as were his guitar solos. At the end of the song, he introduced his band and bid the crowd adieu while his band shook his with the people in the crowd. Overall, a mesmerizing, head spinning night. // 8
Overall Impression: In terms of stage presence, Joe Bonamassa was average and his bass player was the clichd type of bass player, with little stage presence. In terms of the stage itself, there were very few lights, but a gifted lighting technician because the few available were put to good use. Besides Joe's pedal board being on a carpet, there wasn't really anything important in terms of the stage.
For the show, Joe was incredible but a little hard to wrap my head around. I probably should have watched a DVD of him before going to this concert to have prepared myself. Now, I plan to get a DVD and I can truly enjoy Joe's talents. The only real thing to degrade his playing is that, his feel and taste are not in league with other great guitarists who, while simpler, conveyed a powerful feeling through their music.
To get a taste of Joe's high points, there is a video below:
If Joe were ever to come back to sunny south Florida, I would enjoy seeing him again, now that I know what to expect. As a last note, if you have not seen Joe Bonamassa live before, if you see him he will blow away any expectations you have for him whether it be positive or negative. He certainly did for me. // 8