Joe Bonamassa August 12, 2021 Eccles Theater
Review By: Katie Barber
With a minute to go until the 8 o’clock showtime, chimes warned the stragglers filtering through security in the Eccles Theater lobby to take their seats. These chimes were more of a guarantee than a warning, as Joe Bonamassa and his band took the stage not a moment past 8:01. Beyond punctual, the all-time #1 Billboard Blues Album record holder has been described as “magical” and “transformational.”
On this particular night, Bonamassa lived up to this reputation and then some, putting on a relentless performance that began with an extended version of “Evil Mama,” featuring a ripping guitar interlude that earned an immediate standing ovation. Though the crowd was largely composed of an older audience—those who likely grew up on B.B. King and Chuck Berry and who formed the original fanbases of classic rockers such as J.J. Cale, Eric Clapton, and Tom Petty—their applause, whistles, and shouts of approval rivaled the decibel level of the music itself. The room shook with excitement not only because this likely marked the return to live music for many in the audience, but because Bonamassa is a musical icon in his own right.
Bonamassa bridges the musical space-time continuum between classic blues and rock, appearing on today’s charts alongside Gary Clark Jr. and Ben Harper. At the age of 12, he opened for B.B. King, beginning a musical career that has resulted in 31 albums of live and studio recordings, countless supporting tours, and a dedicated fanbase who showed up in Salt Lake City wearing merch that boldly stated “I’M A FRIEND OF JOE’S” and “BONAMASSA SINCE 1997,” the latter of which featured the image of a guitar-playing marlin jumping out of the sea. His stop in SLC was the last of a 9-show-run, the first live performances for him in over a year, playing in iconic venues such as Red Rocks and the prestigious Park Theater in Vegas.
The frontman exuded cool in dark sunglasses and a black suit embroidered with blue floral beadwork on the legs. He was backed by a band that included Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and keyboardist Reese Wynans, drummer Greg Morrow, bassist Michael Rhodes, and vocalist Jade MacRae. Bonamassa followed “Evil Mama” with “Love Ain’t a Love Song,” during which Rhodes took a tumble into Morrow’s drumkit. Both bassist and kit quickly recovered as crew rushed on stage to assist. Even in a less-than-vertical position, Rhodes kept playing in true rock star fashion.
After these two upbeat songs, the group transitioned into the slower burn of “Midnight Blues,” showcasing Bonamassa’s precise guitar skills. Frankly, words can’t quite do justice to his ability to give so much soulful personality to the instrument. Three songs in, it was clear that the crowd would be able to recall the night with the same admiration as those who were lucky enough to see Hendrix live; it wasn’t just “magical” to see someone make a guitar scream in the way Bonamassa did—it was otherworldly.
Though he alternated between guitars multiple times throughout the night, Bonamassa kept the same gritty-sounding Gibson used for “Lookout Man” to take Wynans’ cue after he introduced a cover of Tom Waits’ “Jockey Full of Bourbon” with an upbeat, ragtime-like preface. The presentation was oddly reminiscent of The Raconteurs. The next track “I Didn’t Think She Would Do It” absolutely confirmed that Jack White has taken some Bonamassa inspiration.
MacRae’s vocals featured prominently on “Just Cos You Can,”. Bonamassa made his way up to the front of the stage to treat the first few rows in the audience to an up-close view of his amazing ability to shred. He told the audience that he vowed “never to take another gig for granted,” thanking attendees for selling out the show on a Thursday night. Smoke swirled above the band as Bonamassa shone on the ultra-bluesy, 7-minute-long “Wandering Earth” and Wynans used one of 3 keyboards to add some synth to the soul and rock of “Pain and Sorrow.”
At one point during “Lonely Boy,” the spotlight literally turned to Wynans. He and Bonamassa took turns riffing sequences while Morrow and Rhodes kept up on the improvisation. Wynans dazzled as he multitasked between two keyboards at once, one hand on each, laughing at Bonamassa’s challenges but never missing a beat. “Lonely Boy” also showcased the range of Bonamassa’s vocals, hitting surprisingly high and perfectly punctuated notes.
In the final section of the show, the band played the high-energy, heavy-metalesque “The Ballad of John Henry.” MacRae took the mic and gave her all with some accented vocals. They were similar to the calls of a warrior going into battle as Bonamassa approached a theremin that had been waiting in the shadows at the side of the stage. He reached one hand out, guitar in the other, to test the frequency and the theremin emitted an eerie warble.
The audience cheered before he picked up the guitar with two hands and played the theremin with the actual neck of the guitar, forcing the theremin to make a higher pitched, creepy noise while Rhodes kept up an ominous bassline. The crowd went wild as Bonamassa returned to the center of the stage to bring the song to an end. The band waved to the crowd and walked off to thunderous applause.
Bonamassa was back in no time as the crowd cheered his name. He appeared out of the darkness alone with only an acoustic guitar. The room fell quiet. He launched into “Woke Up Dreaming,” a special highlight of his talents that rose and fell in tempo. “That is quite impressive!” said one audience member a little too loudly to their friend during a lull in the volume. It truly was impressive. Bonamassa paid a price for the performance after he was done picking. A crewmember appeared on stage prepared with bandaids for his fingers. He wrapped up as the band joined him for the final song of the encore, “Crossroads.”
As they took their final bows, the entire audience was on their feet, energized by the nearly two-hour-long performance. It was clear that they would’ve gladly enjoyed another two hours right then and there. Bonamassa’s pure skill is a privilege to witness. The buzz in the crowd as they exited the theater confirmed this. Fans swapped stories of seeing him live previously in Salt Lake and beyond. Surely, the story of this Thursday night will also go down in the history books, to be told between fans for a long time to come.
Love Ain’t a Love Song
Jockey Full of Bourbon
I Didn’t Think She Would Do It
Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should
Pain and Sorrow
A Conversation with Alice
When One Door Opens
Lonely BoyThe Ballad of John Henry
Woke Up Dreaming
2 Replies to “Joe Bonamassa August 12, 2021 Eccles Theater”
Excellent review Katie Barber! You touched on everything I want to know about a show. Having seen Mr. Bonamassa, I agree with you-he is masterful on the guitar and puts on a helluva show. As always Logan Sorenson’s shots are fantastic and gives us a taste of the scene.
Thank you so much for the kind words! Katie is an excellent writer! And we’re always excited when Logan shoots a show for us. Thanks for reading, Scott!
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