November 10, 2011

Bonamassa Rocks State Theatre

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I sure doubt Joe Bonamassa has ever had his fair share of being cheated, lied to or broken down with them hard-earned blues — but hell, that Billboard-charting son-of-bitch blues guitarist can damn well play like he has. This Tuesday, Joe Bonamassa headed down to the Commons and,  before The State Theatre of Ithaca, let out every blue note in his soul.

Joe Bonamassa first struck blues fame when he opened for B.B. King at the mere age of twelve, back in 1989 (the fact that his parents owned a guitar shop might have led him along the guitarist path, at such a unripe age). Since then — across the next two decades of a mature but fresh career — Bonamassa has gone on to play alongside such blues rock greats as Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Eric Clapton, Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers Band), Steve Winwood (Traffic), Jack Bruce (Cream), Stephen Stills (CSNY), Ted Nugent, Joe Cocker, Foreigner and Derek Trucks (another young-starting contemporary blues guitarist himself).

Donning a well-fitted black suit, with stiff white cuffs protruding out in the most perfect fashion and a pair of cool shades, Bonamassa looked like a much classier, second-generation Blues Brother. His smooth licks and smooth looks brought out bouts of howls, hoots and hollers Tuesday evening. Shouts of fan support ranged from one woman screaming “Joe, I love you!” to the abundant number of middle-aged men — in a whole variety of shades of grey hair — yelling “Play it Joseph!” Many of these men were caught in the conundrum of trying to play air guitar while simultaneously balancing or gulping away at their cold beers, provided by the Ithaca Brewing Company in two varieties — Pale Ale & Nut Brown Ale.

Bonamassa’s accompanying band for the evening complemented his style and aura impressively. Bassist Carmine Rojas, who has recorded, toured and played alongside with iconic musicians including David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Keith Richards, Stevie Wonder and Stevie Ray Vaughan (just to name a select few amongst many more, on an absolutely striking résumé), brought rolling bass lines that drove Bonamassa’s guitar licks and added to drummer Tal Bergman’s unrelenting and impeccable rolls, grooves and crashes. Drummer Tal Bergman, too, has quite the history touring and recording with Billy Idol, Rod Stewart, LL Cool J, Eric Johnson and Dave Mason. To me, Bergman also undeniably looked like Hugo “Hurley” Reyes from the television series Lost. Yet that may also have been a bit of that good ol’ Pale Ale kicking in. Joe Bonamassa was in wonderful company with Rojas and Bergman, together with keyboardist Rick Melick, who has played with Andy Gibb (Bee Gees) and members of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers.

For the most part, many of the hard-rock blues musicians that Joe Bonamassa is influenced by and has played alongside with resounded loud and clear in the musical vibe that evening. And of course, guitar aficionados got their fair share of guitar porn when the bluesman whipped out a Strat, Dot and a variety of Les Pauls (sorry I don’t got the details, boys).

Aside from the scores of cheers that roared from the audience with every slow and steady, vacuum-tube amplified bend of the string, the highlights of the night were the times Bonamassa got close and personal about his background with the Ithaca community. “Now, I come from a place called Utica and I’m sure you know people often confuse Utica with Ithaca,” Bonamassa joked to the audience. He shared some of his favorite moments growing up with the State Theatre audience: playing a gig at The Haunt with Buddy Guy at the age of twelve and recording his demo at Ithaca’s own Pyramid Sound Recording Studios, run by Alex Perialas, the director of the Sound Recording Technology program at Ithaca College.

“Sorry I haven’t been back in so long,” Bonamassa expressed to the enthralled and wide-eyed audience. The expected burst of community pride and cheer followed his words. He went on to play The Ballad of John Henry. “12 years, 12 albums, 134 songs! And this one’s the closest I’ve ever come to a hit.”  The hard rock-blues hit fetched a unified cry of joy and many fans sang along to the fan favorite.

Original Author: Justin Zupnick