Joe Bonamassa, The Riverside Theater, Milwaukee, WI, 2/18/2023
Joe Bonamassa Brings His Fierce Intensity to Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater
It feels like words themselves are simply inadequate to fully describe the guitar wizardry of Joe Bonamassa. ‘Amazing,’ ‘astounding,’ ‘unbelievable,’ ‘mind-blowing,’ ‘unequalled,’ ‘superlative.’ Yes, they all work, but are still insufficient to convey the experience of witnessing Joe Bonamassa live.
Joe Bonamassa and his band brought their Spring 2023 Tour to a jam-packed Riverside Theater in Milwaukee on February 18. For some in the audience, this was their first taste of his talents. For many, this was just one of a multitude of live performances they have experienced with the fervor of band zealots.
Joe Bonamassa has been a prolific artist for over 25 years. He’s released 16 solo studio albums since 2000 and a bunch of live albums. He’s appeared and collaborated with legends spanning many different genres, including opening for B.B. King at age 12. His newest release, Tales of Time, is an upcoming live concert film and album shot last year at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado.
Bonamassa was raised on the blues, thanks to the guidance of his father. His style and writing has evolved over time from covering pure blues to infusing rock into his work. His style is warm and inviting, drawing in the listener as one gazes in awe at his intricate finger work. While many have suggested Bonamassa may not be a true blues musician, he clearly shows how the genre can grow and evolve.
An appropriate build-up to the start of the show was the sound of Tom Petty over the loudspeakers with his classic, “The Waiting.” Everyone in the audience would have agreed as Petty’s recorded voice carried throughout the auditorium singing “The waiting is the hardest part!” After the last notes of that song, the stage lit up, the crowd jumped to its feet as Joe Bonamassa launched into “Evil Mama.”
A simple three note guitar lick led off “Dust Bowl,” evoking the echoes of an abandoned Western town.
“Midnight Blues” started off slowly at almost a ballad-like pace leading into frenzied note picking demonstrating Bonamassa’s ability to mix up styles during individual songs.
Throughout the entire set, Bonamassa was intensely focused on his music. At times, he appeared to be physically attacking and squeezing the life out of his guitars with his fingers flying at lightening speed. At other times, he stroked the strings lovingly, almost sensuously, as he coaxed and extracted extended tones that felt like a siren’s song.
His set list in Milwaukee spanned his entire recording career, from “Mountain Time,” which appeared on his 2002 release, So, It’s Like That, to one of his newest songs, “Shout About It.”
With his ubiquitous shades, Bonamassa clearly cuts a distinctive figure on stage. The shades are not an affectation, but instead are necessary due to his sensitivity to light. Understandable given the brightness of the stage (for which a photographer gives his thanks!).
Unlike many artists, Joe Bonamassa didn’t offer up much in the way of banter between songs. This is a direct reflection of the intensity with which he treats his music. 100% focus, 100% of the time.
Bonamassa’s take on one of Muddy Waters’ classics, “Double Trouble,” was especially sweet. From Bonamassa’s 2014 tribute concert to Waters and Howlin’ Wolf at Red Rocks, the tune began with Reese Wynan’s honky tonk tickling of the ivories. Bonamassa then gave the song his soulful guitar and vocals. The song showed how Bonamassa can master blues classics.
He did take a break after “I Didn’t Think She Would Do It,” when he engaged warmly with the audience and introduced his band.
Bonamassa is backed up on this tour by true talent. Most notable is the venerable Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, Reese Wynans, on keyboards. A longstanding member of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s backing band, Double Trouble, Wynans was highlighted throughout the show with solos on the keys.
Also accompanying Bonamassa was blues guitarist and producer Josh Smith, Lamar Carter on drums and Calvin Turner on bass. Australian-born singers, Jade MacRae and Danielle De Andrea, provided backing vocals.
Bonamassa showed his appreciation for the packed house complimenting the crowd on its rowdiness. He recalled his first Milwaukee gig at Shank Hall, playing to a crowd of about 40 people. That was in stark contrast to his last time playing to a full house at The Riverside on March 10, 2020—just before the Covid-forced lockdown that killed live performances. He then quipped about that, after Saturday night, “if I wake up to WWIII, I’m going to blame all of you!”
Bonamassa ended his regular set with his unique twist on ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid.” Unique with Bonamassa’s teasing with fades and tones throughout, and ultimately transitioning into a concluding raucous jam of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused.”
After a standing ovation and cheers by the crowd, Bonamassa and crew came back on stage for their encore of “Mountain Time,” which he said was his most requested song and inspired by his love for the Allman Brothers.
Beyond his formidable playing and composing talents, Bonamassa has a number of other ventures aimed at promoting upcoming stars and furthering the blues and rock genres. Bonamassa founded the Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation in 2011, with the mission of funding youth music education and projects and preserving the rich heritage and culture of blues music. An offshoot of the Foundation is Keeping the Blues Alive Records. KBTR Records was formed in 2020 with the goal of promoting up and coming blues artists, such as Joanne Shaw Taylor, Marc Broussard, and Joanne Carter.
Bonamassa also recently launched Journeyman LLC, designed as a full-service artist management, record label, concert promotion and marketing company to build awareness and promotion of independent artists.
Joe Bonamassa has a heavy tour schedule during 2023, with the continuation of his spring tour in the US, Australia and Europe. He’ll host a two-night “Keeping the Blues Alive Presents” event in August 2023 with Styx and guitarist Don Felder.
For more information about Joe Bonamassa and a list of his tour dates, visit his website at: https://jbonamassa.com/tour-dates/.
Stated simply, Joe Bonamassa is one of the best contemporary guitarists around. His music is wonderful to listen to, but true joy exists in seeing him live. Talent beyond description.
The Riverside Theater, 2-18-2023
Love Ain’t a Love Song
Just Cuz You Can Don’t Mean You Should
Shout About it
I Didn’t Think She Would Do It
Conversation with Alice
The Heart That Never Waits
Just Got Paid (ZZ Top cover)
1 thought on “Show Review: Joe Bonamassa in Milwaukee”
Prepare to be impressed. There’s never a doubt about the quality of talent on a Joe Bonamassa stage! He brings it each and every time.