“You make it look easy”
Joe Bonamassa at Chan’s… March 17, 2006 at 8pm

At the risk of being a nut… I want to start this review with a story about The Lone Ranger.

Yes…  The Lone Ranger.

Yes… To start a review of Joe Bonamassa performing at Chan’s on March 17th.

(Wish me luck. Here we go…)

While he performed in literally dozens of productions, Clayton Moore will always be best known for his efforts as The Lone Ranger. (His IMDb page actually shows a picture of him in character, with the mask. And, to be honest, I believe he will always be considered the definitive actor to play the role.) A few years ago I was at an assembly where a story was told about Moore. With over seventy-five productions listed for his television credentials, not only was he well-known by his peers, but he was respected by them as well. During one effort, he walked in, sat down with the people working on the project, and was as friendly and cordial as anyone could have hoped. When it was time for him to put on his wardrobe, Moore went off to his dressing room alone, and came out, mask in place, as The Lone Ranger. People that worked with him later spoke of a transformation that took place between the Moore they had met earlier and the Moore wearing the mask. In each situation he was polite, accommodating and impressive. But when he had that mask on, Moore seemed taller to most of them. He also seemed more confident… in control.

Same man.

Never a second where he wasn’t pleasant or respected.

A completely different… strikingly different… presence from one moment to another.

And now back to Joe…

On March 17th, I arrived at Chan’s. I had the good fortune to be interviewing Joe, and was taking my stepson and his friend along to talk to him as well. My wife was there with us, and two friends were joining us later for dinner and the performance.

I met a woman at the counter, introduced myself and explained why I was there. She took me through a door into the show room, where Joe… yes, that was definitely Joe, but he wasn’t wearing his trademark sunglasses… was standing at the side of the stage. Before the woman could explain why there was a man and two teenagers staring from across the room, he gave a look of recognition that explained he was expecting us, and politely indicated it would be just a minute.

Over the next few seconds, he let us know exactly what was going on, introduced himself to several of the staff members while promising to try to remember their names, and then sat down for our interview. He gave us more than thirty minutes of his time, which was no small allowance on the third night of four straight days with performances, just two hours before the first of two shows that evening. To say he was generous and accommodating wouldn’t do justice to how well he treated us.

I mention all of this as background because of what happened at 8pm. Because until this particular evening, I had never actually seen a true example of the Clayton Moore story… I had only heard about it.

Joe walked through a side door and entered the room. But this was not the same Joe Bonamassa that we had met earlier. The sunglasses were on. The t-shirt had been replaced by a dress shirt of a style that many fans are familiar with. And there was a confidence… a presence that wasn’t the same. I can’t say that he seemed taller to me, but he was definitely in control.

At 6pm, he was walking around, running through checklists, and was concerned by all the little things. And during all of that, he remained attentive and personable to us as we ran through our questions.

At 8pm he was fully in his element. The foundation… the set-up… was complete. And he had transformed into the stage personality that people had packed the room to see… and none of us would leave disappointed.

Joe is still working as the front man of a power trio.  In the band for the past few months have been bassist Mark Epstein and drummer Bogie Bowles. Mark brings an impressive resume along, including efforts with Johnny Winter. Bogie will be familiar to many of Bonamassa’s fans, having shared some stages and bills with Joe previously while working with Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Both of them provided a strong backing that Bonamassa used quite well. While the songs were familiar to most of the audience, everyone was commenting about how fresh they sounded and how much the band seemed to enjoy playing. This is a trio that hopefully will be performing together for quite some time.

The show opened with what has become almost a signature first number, “Takin’ the Hit.” Justin (my stepson) tapped me as the second song, “Walk in My Shadows” was played. He told me that this version was much slower than he was familiar with. A few songs during the evening would stay pretty close to Joe’s normal versions (most notably “Takin’ the Hit,” “Mountain Time” and “Burning Hell”), but this would not be the only time he veered away from his standard interpretations. Later, during a two-song acoustic set where he was alone on the stage, “Miss You, Hate You” would get an altered presentation from the album/video version.

“Mountain Time” was an exceptional effort. A Bonamassa original, it tends to be overshadowed at times. Simply put… when one or two songs during an evening’s performance are staggering and brilliant, the very good ones will have a tendency to get less credit than they deserve. And yet, “Mountain Time” also stands out as one of the most fulfilling and emotionally rewarding songs in his repertoire.

Two songs currently associated with his upcoming release, You and Me (set to hit stores in the United States on June 6, 2006), were incorporated into the ninety-five minute set of the first show. “Bridge to Better Days” was played in the first third of the evening, and “Asking Around for You” closed out the encore. If these two songs are any indication of the overall quality, You and Me could become the breakout album that brings Joe outstanding sales and a few new awards.

After roaring through two acoustic pieces that simply dazed the audience, Joe shook his hand out while noting “it’s not as easy as it looks.” Later in the set there was a slight pause during a song, and from behind me a voice shouted “you make it look easy.” Joe was bent over his guitar at that point… he arched his eyebrows, peered over his glasses into the audience, smirked a bit, and lit into the closing of the song.

While his set list looks shorter than you might expect… Joe routinely plays a show of around eleven to fourteen songs… the night was not lacking of anything. And with a second set slated for the evening, it was actually a bit surprising for how long it ran and how complete it was. Most songs reached about eight to ten minutes, but were so engaging that the length was never an issue.

Mark and Bogie are extraordinary musicians. Neither was flashy, and you could tell that they were absolutely comfortable with the idea that there was no need to be. They provided Joe with a strong foundation from the beginning of the set until the end, and all three worked brilliantly together.

Not yet thirty, Joe has been performing with some of the biggest names in music for almost two decades. You and Me will be his fifth studio effort since 2001.  (New Day Yesterday was released in 2001, followed by So, It’s Like That, Blues Deluxe and Had to Cry Today. He has also released live albums and DVDs… New Day Yesterday Live and Live at Rockpalast.) This is a busy guy that is building quite a foundation to draw upon.

At the souvenir stand there was a t-shirt… one that a few people were wearing variations of. Joe’s name was on the shirt, and it said “always on the road.” During my interview, when I asked him about a ridiculous tour schedule that went from England in February to over fifteen different states and twenty concerts in March then back to Europe in April, he said he was just “building fans, one at a time.” After a simply stunning performance on this evening, I can’t guarantee Joe a platinum album, but I can guarantee that he and his band earned more than one new fan on this night.

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Joe Bonamassa really is just about “always on the road.” Between April 4th and April 29th, he was scheduled to play on twenty-one days, hitting Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. He returns to the United States with performances beginning in early May, and his summer schedule is beginning to fill in. You can find out more information on his live performance schedule, including the most accurate and up to date details, in the tour section of his web site.

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Joe’s set list from the 8pm show on Friday, March 17th

Takin’ the Hit
Walk in My Shadows
Blues Deluxe
Mountain Time
Bridge to Better Days
A New Day Yesterday
Miss You, Hate You (solo – acoustic)
Woke Up Dreaming (solo – acoustic)
The River
Burning Hell
Asking Around for You


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com