The NYCB Theatre at Westbury
March 22, 2019
Joe Bonamassa was a child prodigy. The blues guitarist opened for B.B. King at 12 years of age. He was profiled on NBC's Real Life With Jane Pauley in 1991. Bonamassa has shared the stage with artists such as Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Stephen Stills, Warren Haynes, Blondie Chaplin, Derek Trucks and, of course, King. Since 2000, the guitarist has released thirteen studio albums, four collaboration albums with Beth Hart, fifteen live albums and multiple DVDs/Blu-rays. His CDs have reached number 1 on the Billboard Blues Charts numerous times. He is also the man considered by many to be the greatest guitarist of the current generation.
On a cool Friday evening in late March, Bonamassa delivered the first of two sold-out performances in the round at the legendary NYCB Theatre at Westbury. Appearing on intimate venue’s circular spinning stage at just after 8pm, Bonamassa was backed by two singers (Jade McRae and Juanita Tippins) and a 5-piece band that featured late-night TV veteran, drummer Anton Fig (who held that position for 29 years in the Late Show With David Letterman's house band), Reese Wynans (the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer who was a member of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble) on keyboards, Michael Rhodes on bass, Lee Thornburg on trumpet and Paulie Cerra on saxophone. Bonamassa and his band then proceeded to burn their way through a mixture of original songs and classic blues covers including: the evening’s opening tune, Muddy Water’s “Tiger In Your Tank;” John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers’ “Little Girl;” Delaney & Bonnie’s “Well Well;” Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and a fantastic, epic almost fifteen minute take on Led Zeppelin's “How Many More Times” that would have done Jimmy Page proud.
In addition to the choice covers, the set list included “King Bee Shakedown,” “This Train” (which featured a snippet of Jethro Tull”s “Locomotive Breath” as its introduction), “Just 'Cos You Can Don't Mean You Should,” “Blues of Desperation” from the 2016 J&R Records album of the same name, “Self Inflicted Wounds” and “How Deep This River Runs.” Bonamassa mainly let the music do the talking. When he finally addressed the crowd, he thanked the audience for coming, mentioned that, “I love playing here in the round, but sometimes it gets you a bit dizzy.”
The evening’s unequaled highlight was when Bonamassa brought 16-year-old Aaron Fig to the stage. He stated that he had known the young man since he was eight and that Aaron would be joining the band on the next tune. The younger Fig took the drumsticks from his father and along with Bonamassa and the band blew the doors off of the concert hall with a electrifying version of Tim Curry’s “Sloe Gin.” When Aaron was brought out from behind the skins to take a bow, the audience responded with a standing ovation. The main set ended with a tour de force version of “Last Kiss.” The show ended with the killer encores “Woke Up Dreaming” and “Mountain Time.”
The NYCB Theatre at Westbury is a cozy and intimate venue that on this night it was filled (with nary a single empty seat) with members of what can be called Bonamniacs or Bonamassa nation. The faithful sang along, played air guitar in the aisles, cheered, hooted, hollered and were rewarded with a performance that lasted for approximately two hours.
To the uninitiated, Joe Bonamassa looks like he could be an accountant. A very cool accountant in a well-tailored blue suit with fantastic sunglasses, but an accountant just the same. An accountant...yeah if your accountant was an amazing guitarslinger that could make his six-string sing, howl, soar and moan. In addition to his guitar skills, this unlikely virtuoso has the voice, the original material and reverence for the legends and the history of the blues genre to bring it back to the masses and give it the renaissance that it both deserves and needs.
Photo Credit: Christine Connallon