November 4, 2006
I didn't get turned on to Joe Bonamassa until the release of his second solo album, 2002's So, It's Like That. My copy also came with a bonus DVD of A New Day Yesterday Live, which was recorded during his 2001 tour in support of his major-label debut album of the same name. I had already heard great things about Bonamassa, but listening to that album for the first time made me realize this kid was really something special. I eventually popped in the concert DVD, only really expecting a short, low budget recording, but was pleasantly surprised to find a nearly two-hour, professionally shot concert. As impressed as I was with the So, It's Like That CD, this live DVD completely blew me away.
Bonamassa was a legitimate guitar prodigy by the age of six, and was opening for B.B. King before his thirteenth birthday. Now a grizzly, 29-year-old veteran of the blues-rock scene, Bonamassa has reached an almost insane level of guitar prowess, and his November 4 show at Blues Alley easily surpassed my highest expectations. To be honest, when I listen to most of Joe's studio albums, I always think to myself "this stuff is great, but it could be so much better" — if only he could capture the power of his incredible live performances more. Seeing him perform live for the first time left me simply awestruck. Yeah, he is that good.
Tucked away in a dark alley in the heart of Georgetown, Blues Alley has been the premier jazz/blues club in the Washington D.C. metro area since 1965. Seating what seems like about 20 people — the capacity is actually about 160 — the place is one of the most intimate venues you will ever catch a major act in. My wife and I arrived about an hour before the scheduled show time, and most of the first-come, first-serve table seats were already taken. We were lucky enough to be ushered up toward the front of the stage, just to the right, damn near touching distance from the band.
On the strength of his excellent new 2006 release You & Me, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues chart, Bonamassa was scheduled to play four straight nights, two shows per night, at Blues Alley. I was there for the second night (Saturday), first show (8 PM). As we were just settling in, sipping on our first round of drinks, Joe himself walks out on stage dressed in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, as if the crowd would not even notice him, and proceeds to do soundcheck with one of his Gibson Les Pauls. We all stared in amazement as Joe nonchalantly fired off these killer guitar licks only about ten feet from my table. He had to look up and smile a few times as some of us cheered him on throughout this brief, but amazing, soundcheck.