Written by Jim Bille

Joe Bonamassa has hit the road with a vengeance finally making good on his much anticipated tour after being sidelined due to the lockdown of 2020. One of his stops that I was able to make it to was at Smart Financial Centre in Sugarland, TX on October 16. This acoustically pristine venue in Sugarland was an ideal place to witness a Bonamassa show.

This would make the third time for me to see JB. The first time was at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA back in 2002 when he opened for The Fabulous Thunderbirds and BB King. The second time was eight years later in 2010 for an abbreviated set at The Crossroads Guitar Festival in Bridgeview, Il. So I had some what of an idea of what to expect, or at least that’s what I thought.

After seeing Bonamassa when he was a 25 year old wiz in 2002 I was impressed but not overwhelmed. Actually I hadn’t heard of him then so I really did not know what to expect. At that time, many up and coming guitarists were jockeying to make their mark and were heavily influenced by SRV and Hendrix and basically that was what I remember hearing that night from JB. Nothing wrong with that, but I thought I was hearing someone who might turn out to be a really good fringe performer at best.

Fast forward to the other night and I found out quickly how far off my assessment had been in 2002. The Joe Bonamassa of today is an incredibly polished, slick and focused performer with no direction to go but to a higher musical plain. He has established himself as one of the premier Blues Rock players of his, or anyone else’s generation, and seeing one of his live shows will convince even the most ardent blues aficionados of that fact. His metamorphous and musical maturity from the hard and loud guitar riff slammer kid that I saw in 2002 into the precise perfectionist and master of the guitar is beyond any expectation that I would have imagined back then.

JB opened the show with “Evil Mama” from his Redemption release in 2018. This was a good choice to kick the show off with its kind of Jeff Beck Group funky moving groove that hooked the packed house straight out of the gate.

“Love Ain’t a Love Song”, from JB’s release, Different Shades of Blue, may have been a little less soulful without the horn section backing him up but it still had plenty of punch to satisfy the fans.

Bonamassa’s version of the Gary Moore penned “Midnight Blues” paid homage to one of the best players to ever strap on a guitar. Soulful and searing guitar note scaling and string bending from Bonamassa highlighted and elevated this number to new heights.

JB’s take on “Didn’t Think She’d Do It” from Royal Tea, rocked the house with its classic rock infused melody. Any one yearning for a hint of semi-heavy metal would not have been disappointed with this number.

I’ll not cover every song of this epic performance but will mention the last two encore songs. The first, a flamenco infused acoustic song called “Woke up Dreaming”. Although it started out rather subtle, Bonamassa would eventually work the tune into an incredible  expose of  fingering fret work  that was more than over the top, truly amazing guitar craftsmanship on this number.

The last song of the evening was “Slow Gin”. Not sure if Bonamassa has a signature song but this one would defiantly be in the running. JB’s intricate and intense guitar solos on this tune raised the bar higher than you could imagine, taking the audience on a climactic musical high.

My modest observation is that Joe Bonamassa is one of the best guitar players on the scene now and should be on everyone’s list of must-see-live performers and definitely worth your investment in any of his published music.

Another worthy tidbit is that Bonamassa seeks to build the early relationship between children and music through his philanthropic efforts, working with schools and putting instruments in the hands of kids via his Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit which has impacted more than 70,000 youngsters across the country.

Pretty cool guy for sure.