Some call it Black Friday, but this year it was Blue Friday as blues great Joe Bonamassa brought his 2023 tour to Springfield, MA on the day after Thanksgiving. Bonamassa’s brand of the blues is an uplifting revival that leaves your jaw on the ground and your hands in the air.
A few minutes prior to the ticket time, the lights went down and the intro music started, soon the band took the stage and immediately tore into “Hope You Realize It (Goodbye Again)” from the recently released Blues Deluxe, Vol 2. The record serves as a companion to his 2003 breakout Blues Deluxe record and was well-represented throughout the set, including the next two songs, a cover of Bobby Bland’s “24 Hour Blues” and Guitar Slim’s “Well, I Done Got Over It”.
One of the (many) things that sets Joe Bonamassa apart from his peers is his ability as a band leader. On each tour, he assembles a group of top musicians whose skills perfectly complement the theme of the tour. For the last few years, the band has been anchored by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame keyboardist Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble) and guitarist Josh Smith, who Bonamassa refers to as “the best guitarist on the stage”. They are accompanied by bassist Calvin Turner, drummer Lamar Carter, and backing vocalists Jade MacRea and Danielle DeAndrea. Bonamassa does his best to make sure every member is recognized and given a moment in the spotlight.
The set had a perfect flow to it throughout the night. the first run of three songs had the crowd moving before it was brought down a bit with the beautiful “Self Inflicted Wounds” from 2018’s Redemption. Watching Bonamassa take his solos on the slower, more emotional songs is a truly moving experience. Very few can make a guitar cry the way Bonamassa can. Keeping the flow going, the band immediately launched into the Vol 2 track “I Want To Shout About It” which really showcased the impressive MacRea and DeAndrea.
With such a prolific catalog, it’s nearly impossible for Bonamassa to dig back into all of his releases, but the addition of the 2011 gem “The Last Matador of Bayonne“ from Dust Bowl was very welcome. The soaring solo really made this song the centerpiece of the set. After a searing “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home”, Bonamassa took a rare break to address the crowd and formally introduce his band. There isn’t a lot of banter in a Bonamassa show as he is all business when on stage, but when he does stop to address the crowd he comes across as witty, humble, and funny, telling a story about every time he plays Springfield, MA it’s a freezing cold day, even if it’s the 4th of July.
The ending run of the main set would have been worth the price of admission on its own. I didn’t think it was possible but the entire band kicked into an even higher gear for “The Heart That Never Waits” from Time Clocks, Vol. 2 songs “Is It Safe To Go Home” (written by guitarist Josh Smith) and Fleetwood Mac’s “Lazy Poker Blues”. Bonamassa and his band saved the best for last though, ending the set with a totally incendiary version of ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid”. This could be one of the great live performances I ever saw. Every member was on fire and the crowd was on its feet pushing them even higher. The lone encore was the 2002 classic “Mountain Time”.
I’ve seen Joe Bonamassa live many times over the years. Each time is a totally different, unique experience. Joe’s mission is Keeping The Blues Alive and he does that more than any of his peers. From acoustic shows to tours that focused on The 3 Kings, British Blues, as well as his own material, Bonamassa continues to showcase multiple facets of the blues, allowing fans to not only learn about the history of the blues but to find their favorite parts of it. He has collaborated with many younger artists, helping to raise their profile and grow their own audiences. Aside from being one of its best practitioners, Joe Bonamassa is easily the best ambassador of the blues.