It feels almost futile at this point to keep documenting Joe Bonamassa’s live performances, yet here we are once again. Uncontested as the torchbearer of modern blues-rock, we have followed Joe’s studio and live endeavors for many years now, and we found ourselves witnessing the final night of his current tour – coincidentally also his final show for 2023 – at the Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood this past Saturday. And, once again the evening unfolded as a testament to Bonamassa‘s virtuosity, punctuated by his effortless stage presence and the stellar support of his outstanding band.
The anticipation was palpable as the venue plunged into darkness at 8:15 PM, with the melodies of Tom Petty and The Heartbreak’s song “The Waiting” signaling the beginning of the show. Impeccably dressed, as usual, Joe and his bandmates showed up on stage and wasted no time as they dived head-first into a scintillating rendition of “Hope You Realize It (Goodbye Again)”, one of the tracks from his most recent studio album “Blues Deluxe Vol. 2”. Such opening salvo served as an impeccable appetizer, setting an electrifying tone for the evening to come; filled with infectious harmonies and searing musicianship, and topped off with Bonamassa‘s emotional vocal delivery and guitar pyrotechnics.
As it happens in every Bonamassa show I’ve been to, we were treated to a musical tapestry that spanned various tempos and emotions, with Joe’s original songs sprinkled with covers for a good measure, exemplified by the cuts two and three from the setlist: a fiery rendition of Bobby Bland’s “24 Hour Blues” and a cover of Guitar Slim’s “Well, I Done Got Over It”, the later paired with a ferocious guitar solo section. What makes Bonamassa a force of his own is the fact that his performance is not just about technical prowess. Sure, he absolutely can make his guitar sing, but he connects with the audience at a much deeper level. As his hands run through the fretboard, he manages to convey such a depth of emotion, a true tapestry of sounds that feel both powerful and intimate in unison, easily resonating with everyone present. And the standing ovations from almost 5000 in attendance during several moments throughout the night, were unequivocal evidence as to how the Bonamassa’s music made them feel.
“Self Inflicted Wounds” allowed Joe to stretch out his soulful voice, whereas the slow-burner of “The Last Matador of Bayonne” turned into a blues feast, taken to unexpectedly high levels by the combination of his blistering, incendiary extended guitar solo (on his 1962 Cherry Red Gibson ES-335 Guitar), and the mesmerizing powerhouse background vocals of Jade McRae and Danielle DeAndrea, who are an essential part of the presentation, and add a phenomenal extra layer to each song, serving as a tremendous counterpart to Joe’s register.
Bonamassa‘s interaction with the audience came after “Breaking Up Someone’s Home”, and he effortlessly injected a touch of humor while acknowledging the significance of the night being the tour’s finale: “Thank you to every one of you for coming to spend this night with us. Tonight is the last night of the tour, and our final show of the year, and we couldn’t think of a better place for it to happen” he wittily quipped, setting the stage for the introductions of the exceptional talent that was accompanying him on stage. “These guys are the real deal, and I would be nowhere without them, I’m just a guy pretending to look like Men in Black, Part 5” he humbly added.
Despite Bonamassa‘s humble assertions that he’s an entertainer rather than just a guitar player, his otherworldly abilities were front and center, and “The Heart That Never Waits” was a picture-perfect example of a band firing on all cylinders, sporting a ferocious organ section courtesy of three times Grammy award winner keyboardist Reese Wynans, searing backing vocals by McRae and DeAndrea, and Joe exploring his instrument’s sonic nuances, building to a thunderous crescendo and concluding with an extended note that seemed to suspend time and space.
The last segment of the show was the stuff blues dreams are made of: “Is It Safe to Go Home”, coincidentally written by the other man on stage playing the guitar, Josh Smith, and supercharged renditions of Fleetwood’s Mac “Lazy Poker Blues”, and ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid”, featuring a drum solo by Lemar Carter and a riveting, additional section of Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused”, as immortalized by Bonamassa during his 2009 rendition at The Royal Albert Hall. Joe played a red Jackson instead of a Les Paul, and rocked it in a way that would make James Hetfield pale with envy.
I’ve seen Bonamassa live numerous times over the years, and every single time is a different experience, with its own charm and song selection, but all of them become a remarkable spectacle. He knows all too well how to weave a sonic narrative that captivates and transcends the live stage, one that leaves an indelible memory experience that defies the “tales of time”.