Once again a little outside my usual zone, I’m asked to tackle an artist I’ve heard of but not really been exposed to before. A good few members of the Crew have told me how great Joe Bonamassa is and to be fair his name is pretty much synonymous with the blues rock scene. He’s gone from a support slot as a 12 year old to playing huge halls as a headliner and that doesn’t happen if you’re not capturing hearts and minds.
This live set – two CDs, two DVDs, a Blu-Ray, three vinyl discs or a digital download – consists of fifteen songs (plus extras on some formats) recorded over two nights at the famous Carnegie Hall in New York in January 2016. Some were, at the time of recording, new tracks. Others were rearrangements of older songs. All were performed with an eclectic mix of backing musicians and instruments from piano and saxophone to hurdy-gurdy, mandolin and erhu! This 9-piece band is what really sets this album out as something different to the usual “let’s just get rid of the electrics and the drums” acoustic performances.
Now, while I’m not familiar with Bonamassa’s material, I do appreciate good music and skilled musicianship. Live at Carnegie Hall drips quality. No, that’s not enough. It gushes it. It’s overflowing. Like trying to contain the Pacific in a thimble. I was lucky enough to get the CD and then the DVD to check out, and they both contain the same songs. For my money, though, the DVD is worth getting (perhaps as well as the CD or a download for the car) as the concerts were filmed beautifully.
Taking his place in the spotlight, Bonamassa spends pretty much the entire show seated which isn’t uncommon for an acoustic show. He’s dressed somewhat conservatively compared to his fellow musicians who really add colour to proceedings. Tina Guo, who plays cello and the aforementioned erhu, ranks as Bonamassa’s co-star. This is no more apparent than towards the end of “Woke Up Dreaming” where the pair go absolute hell for leather on their respective instruments, climaxing in a massive roar and standing ovation from the crowd. To really appreciate this, you need the DVD as the CD – I assume for space reasons – misses out a lot of the between-song sequences as well as much of Bonamassa’s interaction with the audience.
I don’t want to overlook the rest of the ensemble, either. The three backing singers both look and sound amazing and the dual hitty-thing combination of drummer Anton Fig and percussionist Hossam Ramzy really adds something to the rhythm section. Bonamassa stole this idea from Slipknot. S’true.*
The DVD extras run to over 100 minutes as well, including another version of “Woke Up Dreaming”, a behind-the scenes documentary of the shows and a photo gallery.
From a newcomer’s point of view, this is quite frankly a superb introduction to the world and talent of Joe Bonamassa made all the better by the uniqueness of the arrangements and performance. For existing fans, I’d be staggered if any felt ripped off at “another” collection of material of which they already own other versions. Live at Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening is something special, both audibly and visually.
*May not be true