There’s no question that Joe Bonamassa puts on a superb show, as evidenced on both his earlier Live from Royal Albert Hall DVD and our own report from last March’s concert at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Music Hall. This week, Bonamassa is back with another live DVD, shot last November at New York’s Beacon Theatre. And it may just be his best yet.
The main feature opens with a cool black & white vignette of Bonamassa busking an instrumental “72nd St. Subway Blues” in the underground station (for which, Bonamassa explains in the liner notes, he “was not able to make a single dollar…I gave those people my heart and soul and all I got was blank stares…”) before boarding the train and then walking the streets of the city, eventually making his way to and entering the historic Beacon Theatre, its marquee reading “Joe Bonamassa Tonight & Tomorrow: The Guitar Event of the Year.” From there, the lights and sounds of the rocking “Slow Train” get the concert off to a mighty start, both aurally and visually, with Bonamassa and the three other musicians – Carmine Rojas on bass, Tal Bergman on drums, and Rick Melick on keyboards – captured quite nicely through an interesting variety of camera angles and depths.
That fine production of course continues throughout the DVD, often making you feel as if you’re in the room as Bonamassa and his colleagues work through such gems as the smoking “When the Fire Hits the Sea,” a blistering “You Better Watch Yourself” and the quieter but no less powerful “Bird on a Wire,” except with the added advantage of an all-access pass that allows you to move to different sides of the stage – including at times behind the musicians – and around the theater rather than being confined to a single seat (though not something you mind all that much at a Bonamassa show). The camerawork and editing are nothing less than exceptional, with shots ranging from close-ups of Bonamassa, his bandmates and their instruments to full-stage and audience views, with one of our personal favorites being a side-view of Bonamassa through a few of Bergman’s drums, as seen on “The River” and several other songs.
That’s accompanied of course by some great music, including such tunes as “Midnight Blues” (Gary Moore), “Dust Bowl,” Bobby Parker’s “Steal Your Heart Away,” and “Mountain Time.” If that’s not enough for you, the show also includes appearances from guests Beth Hart, John Hiatt, and Paul Rodgers, who add strength in such numbers as “Sinner’s Prayer” and “I’ll Take Care of You” from Hart and Bonamassa’s 2011 collaboration Don’t Explain, “I Know a Place” (Hiatt) and “Fire and Water” (Rodgers) before the set closes in a similar rocking fashion as it started, on “Young Man Blues.”
A bonus DVD includes two additional tracks – Warren Haynes’ “If Heartaches Were Nickels” and a terrific ten and a half minute Bonamassa solo number in “Woke Up Dreaming” – in addition to a backstage conversation/guitar lesson between Joe and David Crosby in “A Friend Stops By,” Bonamassa relating the story of his subway busking in “A Busker’s Tale,” and a gallery of photos from the band’s shows both in New York and throughout the world.
We don’t typically get all that excited about concert DVDs; rarely, in our opinion, are they able to capture a performer or performance in a way that does justice to the artist in quite the same manner as a true live appearance. But Bonamassa’sLive from New York is in a class by itself; a captivating production spotlighting one of today’s most exciting performers, this DVD is one we’ll be watching time and again.
Like the Royal Albert Hall show, you can check out Bonamassa’s Beacon Theatre concert on both PBS and Palladia HD (check local listings), or better yet for those in Pittsburgh, catch him in person when he plays the Benedum Center in early May, with a new album expected about the same time or shortly after.