Joe Bonamassa brought his “Guitar Event of the Year” to Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer concert hall on October 5. Along with his stellar eight-piece band, Bonamassa delivered a two-plus-hour set of fantastic progressive blues-rock guitar. As Muddy Waters played through the PA and the house lights dimmed, Bonamassa simply walked on stage, picked up his guitar, said hello and started playing the first of five consecutive songs from his 2016 Blues of Desperation. Bonamassa played a Fender Stratocaster on the opening song “This Train,” which he had singing, moaning and groaning as if the guitar was an extension of himself.
Watching Bonamassa's hands and fingers move across the fretboard is simply mesmerizing, a mix of precision, fluid motion and lightning speed. With guitar changes at nearly every song, fans called out the guitars as they were brought to the stage. The moment the Gibson Flying V hit the stage we knew it was blues time, specifically Albert King time, with classics like “Breaking Up Someone’s Home" and "Angel of Mercy” leaving no doubt Bonamassa can play the blues.
On stage with Bonamassa for this tour was a band that includes Rock & Roll Hall of Fame keyboardist Reese Wynans of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, legendary Late Night with David Letterman drummer Anton Fig, Nashville-based bassist Michael Rhodes; trumpeter Lee Thornburg and saxophonist Paulie Cerra. He also had the stunning harmonies of backing vocalists Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins to round out a great band that made for a truly special performance, highlighted by a moving version of “Slow Train” and the closing performance of “Hummingbird,” a song that goes deep and touches your soul.
At just 40 years old, Joe Bonamassa has released a remarkable catalog of music, shared the stage with the best of the best (including BB King, John Lee Hooker and Eric Clapton), and he continues to shine playing live. His virtuosity is truly something to experience, and it leaves this longtime fan anticipating what the future will bring.