If you chose to read this review, then you probably already know that Joe Bonamassa is one of the premier blues-rock guitarists of his generation – the twenty-something generation. Like his young contemporaries, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Jonny Lang, Bonamassa was already playing professionally when he was barely out of diapers, and at the ripe old age of 28, he is already a weathered, blues-guitar veteran.
When I consider some of the best blues-rock concert videos in my collection, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Live At The El Mocambo, Gary Moore’s Live At Montreux, and Robben Ford’s New Morning immediately come to mind. Bonamassa’s new Live At Rockpalast DVD makes a strong case for being added to that prestigious list.
Back in 2002, I stumbled upon Bonamassa’s A New Day Yesterday Live DVD, which was included as a bonus with his So, It’s Like That CD. If you haven’t seen that one yet, run out and do so immediately, if you can still find it. Although it was a low budget affair, it brilliantly captured one of the most incendiary blues-rock guitar performances I have ever witnessed. That is what originally cemented my status in the Joe Bonamassa fan club.
With this new Live At Rockpalast release, Bonamassa is again captured in an intimate setting, backed by the same killer rhythm section of Eric Czar on bass, and Kenny Kramme on the drums, but this time you get a powerhouse DTS surround audio track, and some crystal clear video production. The performance was recorded at the Burg Satzvey in Merchernich, Germany for the legendary German television show Rockpalast. The Satzvey is actually a magnificent 14th-century castle which presents one of the most unique concert settings you will ever witness.
The setlist for this show was rather short, only nine full songs along with a short jam, which surprisingly featured a couple of Yes classics. When I first saw “Heart Of The Sunrise” and “Starship Trooper” listed on the DVD case, I was quite intrigued. As much as I am a blues-rock fan, I am even more of a prog-rock fan, and Yes are the granddaddies of that genre. Now what in the hell did Bonamassa have in mind for this stuff? Well, during the middle of the encore set, while still strapped with a Gibson Les Paul, he proceeded to tear right into the frenetic intro section of “Heart Of The Sunrise”, and after a couple of minutes segued into the ending section of “Starship Trooper”. With that fat Gibson tone, and an extra touch of vibrato and sustain behind each note, Bonamassa fiercely transformed these two pieces into his very own blues-prog hybrids.
Four of the other nine songs were from Bonamassa’s 2003 album, Blues Deluxe, an album that featured mostly older blues covers. The song “Blues Deluxe” originally appeared on Jeff Beck’s seminal debut solo album, Truth, which featured a young Rod Stewart on lead vocals. You also get covers of B.B. King’s “You Upset Me Baby”, and John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell” which are not quite on par with some of Bonamassa’s best work. The one original composition that he played from Blues Deluxe, “I Don’t Live Anywhere”, was actually the best of the bunch.”The River”, another original composition, from 2004’s Had To Cry Today, begins as a slow blues burner that showcases Bonamassa’s incredible slide work, and then transforms into a ferocious blues-rock anthem.
The other thing that separates Bonamassa from the rest of the pack are his remarkably mature-sounding vocals. If you didn’t know any better you’d swear you were listening to some legendary Chicago-blues veteran who has already lived the life he sings about. I think he is the best singer of all the bluesmen that I’ve already mentioned on this page.
As mesmerizing as Bonamassa can be to watch, the guy standing to his left, five-string bassist Eric Czar, can be a downright show stealer. A master of every bass trick in the book, he effortlessly switches between funky slapping, thunderous low-end riffs, and delicate interludes, but when he is needed to anchor the groove, he knows exactly what to do. As much as he enjoys showing off, he plays for the song. Drummer Kenny Kramme also lays down some incredible stuff, and I was amazed at how effortless he makes it look. This was one hell of a tight power trio and its a damn shame they are no longer in tact.
The audio tracks on this DVD sound outstanding. Along with the standard Dolby Digital stereo track, you also get a powerhouse DTS surround mix, that not only showcases Bonamassa’s phenomenal guitarmanship, but also gives due justice to his equally incredible rhythm section. The bass thundered from my subwoofer, and the drum kit sounded like it was sitting in my living room. The video was clear and sharp, but the camera work suffered from the dreaded quick angle change syndrome. Too much of the show was shot with close-ups, instead of showing the entire stage, or maybe medium shots of Bonamassa and Czar riffing off each other. The close-ups did provide some excellent views of all the brilliant fretwork going down, but it took away from the overall atmosphere of the show.
Disappointingly, there was not a single special feature, or even a measly little booklet included inside the case. You’d think that when your gig is inside of a frigging 14th-century German castle that you might consider throwing in a little behind the scenes footage for the fans! How about an interview as well? A New Day Yesterday Live was just a low budget teaser, but this package could have been so much better. Thankfully, the most important elements were all in place, great sound, great video, and a killer performance, so who the hell am I to complain. Don’t miss this one!
Takin’ The Hit
A New Day Yesterday
You Upset Me Baby
Had To Cry Today
Heart Of The Sunrise
I Don’t Live Anywhere
Read all of my DVD concert reviews at Roy’s Reviews.