Gritty - definitely an adjective to be associated with Joe Bonamassa's music. Gritty, self assured, and unapologetic. These characterise his style, which is comprised in other words, of mad guitar skills and assertive, rugged belting. His is music that you just can't help but bob your head and tap your foot to. At least, that much is true based on my first live Bonamassa experience. The 35 year-young guitar extraordinare and band made their Fall 2012 tour debut in town two evenings back, and for a Monday night, the turnout was not bad at all - the house was filled at over three quarters capacity.
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And, good on everyone who chose to let this seasoned musician - he has worked with the likes of BB King and Eric Clapton, to toss up just two big names, among many - and his guys accost their Monday blues . A four piece composed also of Carmine Rojas (electric bass), Tal Bergman (drums) Rick Melick (keys), the Bonamassa band owes the bulk of its entertainment factor - aside from Bonamassa himself, of course - to Bergman, who with his distinctive headful of curly white locks, could easily pass off as Santa Claus incarnate, on drums.
He was practically exploding off his drumset throughout the show, and featured in a couple of incredible solos that I am not likely to forget anytime soon - drumsticks a blinding flash, hair flying, head jerking back and forth with abandon. It really wasn't very difficult to be affected by his vigour.
Bonamassa himself - outfitted in ever-present dark glasses and slicked-back hair - was on his own kind of fuel: the gusto he delivered each song with, the thrilling and seemingly inhuman guitar solos - a recurrence over various numbers. Also quite the showman, he hammed up solos, his face turned up and stretching wide, at times with bared teeth, or scrunched tight, with his entire body bent or on earnest tiptoe.
Although Bonamassa is primarily known for doing blues rock, I felt that the night's music was instead quite redolent of country rock - the 'rockabilly' vibe, as a fellow concert goer termed it. Lasting a solid two hours - including the mandatory encore that got nearly everyone grooving up on their feet, rock concert style, the show opened with its front man seated centre stage, on the acoustic guitar, and accompanied by Bergman on African conga style drums of varying sizes.
After the first four or so songs were played in this manner, Bonamassa brought out the full electric band setup, opening up the show's more dynamic segment - for which he became the 'trickster' backed by his gang (band) of tricksters. Taking the cue from their band leader, the musicians went pulled out all the stops on the dramatic build ups, contrasting these with phases of extremely muted (as to be almost inaudible) playing - a brilliant showcase of their mastery of volume - and feigned endings, which cheated many into applauding prematurely and repeatedly before a given song actually ended. The band's tongue-in-cheek way of poking fun at the audience perhaps? Well, we certainly didn't seem to mind: I heard only chuckles all around.
As the night drew to a close, Bonamassa appreciatively proclaimed what a 'fine crowd' we were and thanked us for making the 'twenty-three-and-a-half-hours on our a**es' worth the band's while. In keeping with the blues, Bonamassa's music flaunts a brusque 'take it or leave it' attitude. 'Take it', we most certainly did.