Photo by Willy Rummel
Review by Lisa Marie Brown, with Drew Pentkowski

Last Wednesday, modern Blues-Rock guitar virtuoso Joe Bonamassa hit the stage of the Heritage Theater at the Dow Event Center right on time at 8 p.m. He opened the energetic show with an unexpected and hard-driving version of Rory Gallagher's “Cradle Rock.” The impeccable tone of his Gibson Les Paul guitar captured the crowd as he played slide akin to legends like Sonny Landreth and Lowell George. He then brought the vibe of the show down to a slow Bluesy sway with “So Many Roads,” harkening back to his strong influence of Blues masters like B.B. King and Eric Clapton. With a feeling like being in an old Southern juke joint, “When the Fire Hits the Sea” introduced the audience to his latest album, Black Rock.

The keyboardist, Rick Melick added a unique texture and the rhythm section, consisting of Tal Bergman on drums and bassist Carmine Rojas were rock solid throughout the nearly two hour set without overwhelming Bonamassa's soulful vocals and immaculate tone during such classic staples as “If Heartaches Were Nickels,” “Slow Train” and “Sloe Gin.”

Showcasing a highlight off of his upcoming release, the title track “Dustbowl” had elements of guitar legend Eric Johnson's playing style, giving further evidence to Bonamassa's vast catalog of musical influences. As he launched into the massively popular “The Ballad of John Henry,” Bonamassa's self-depreciating humor engaged laughter among the audience regarding its status at last place in the “Top Ten Blues Riffs of All Time.” By far the most impressive example of Bonamassa's guitar prowess was the lengthy acoustic break, “Woke Up Dreaming.” Punctuated with elements of gypsy-jazz, his mastery of the instrument was no more evident than in this song.

After playing nearly 20 songs, including nine guitar changes and additional coloration provided by the uniquely incorporated theremin, the band briefly left the stage. With a standing audience fervently shouting “We love you Joe!” over their applause, Joe strutted back in his purple Converse All-Stars once more. The band played an extended encore, beginning with the vintage soul sounds of “Bird on a Wire,” and his version of the ZZ Top classic “Just Got Paid,” which forayed into the crowd-pleasing cover of Led Zeppelin's “Dazed and Confused.” Truly, this was the most appropriate song to conclude a spectacular evening with this contemporary Blues-Rock titan. Without question, Bonamassa's performance was an uncommon pleasure for Blues-Rock enthusiasts of the Saginaw area.

Set List:

Cradle Rock
So Many Roads
When the Fire Hits the Sea
So, It's Like That
If Heartaches Were Nickels
Slow Train
Dust Bowl
You Better Watch Yourself
Sloe Gin
The Ballad of John Henry
Lonesome Road Blues
Happier Times
Steal Your Heart Away
The Great Flood
Young Man Blues
Woke Up Dreaming
Django/India/Mountain Time
Bird on a Wire
Just Got Paid
Dazed and Confused

© Lisa Marie Brown, 2011