Joe Bonamassa @ Bell Centre – 20th November 2017

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Montreal got treated on Monday to a 2-hour concert by Joe Bonamassa, who stopped by the Bell Centre on his recent fall tour through North America. The venue was used only to half its capacity but almost every seat of the first three levels were filled. 4000 baby boomers sat happily on their seats, with their wives, their beers and sometimes their kids to enjoy a night of blues rock.

The entrance to the hockey arena was uneventful, quick and organized with everyone on their seat by the time the show started. At 8 o’clock, on a dark scene, the keyboard player, behind a big spotlight, started the show and built up to the moment was Joe came out and greeted everyone with his guitar.

Almost no words were spoken from the stage for the first hour, every song was played one after the other, with no introduction or intermediate smalltalk. Joe and his band came to entertain and do it big. The top-notch musicians, the backup singers, and even the lights were all synced like a metronome to the great concert that Bonamassa had prepared for this tour.

14 songs were played in total and they included a couple from his new album and 6 covers ranging from Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times” to Albert King’s “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home”. Each one was chosen to not only entertain but to showcase the dexterity and power of Joe’s guitar playing.

Each song had a different tuning and with each one came out a new guitar from Joe’s private collection, about 6 were in rotation, having among them a Gibson Les Paul, a couple of Fender Stratocasters and a Telecaster which were the ones I could recognize from my seat.

Most of the crowd moved their heads to the rhythm, strummed air guitars and stomped on an invisible bass drum throughout all the songs. Some in the audience were even filming the whole thing, although I do not know to what avail, since the recorded concert audio from most cell phones is subpar at best and living life through a screen seems like a waste of money and a missed opportunity to enjoy the music and just be.

There were no memorable songs that people sang to but there were plenty of moments, especially after very colorful solos, most of the audience gave standing ovations to the amazing performance that Joe was putting in place.

joe bonamassa bell centre

Mid-set, after a dexterous 5 minute solo from drummer Anton Fig (David Letterman’s drummer for 3 decades), Joe reminisced about his kid-prodigy days when he used to visit Montreal at the Jazz Festival’s invitation and play at the Corona Theatre at 2 am for much smaller crowds, himself estimating at 10 or 15 at the most. He then took the opportunity to thank everyone present for “having come in mass quantities” and showing their support for his art and his career as a torch bearer for blues rock.

The show was good but it missed something, in my opinion. Maybe there hasn’t been enough time in his 16 years of recorded history to cement “a classic” into the airwaves and our subconscious. Maybe it was the missing “famous” cover songs that did not get played or even the top songs from his repertoire, such as “I’ll Take Care of You” or “Woke Up Dreaming”. Or maybe it was the lack of blues freedom on stage to balance the orchestral precision for the artists that he had with him (especially since the setlist was and, most probably, will be the same for the rest of the tour). The night left in me with not much desire to see him live again (especially at $100+ per ticket), listen to one of his albums in full nor play his music out loud at the house anytime soon. Alas, the night for me will be forgettable in the long term.

joe bonamassa montreal bell centre

Setlist:

This Train
Mountain Climbing
Blues of Desperation
No Good Place for the Lonely
How Deep This River Runs
Some Other Day, Some Other Time (Freddie King cover)
Breaking Up Somebody’s Home (Albert King cover)
Angel of Mercy (Albert King cover)
Slow Train
Driving Toward the Daylight
Boogie With Stu (Led Zeppelin cover)
Last Kiss
How Many More Times (Led Zeppelin cover)

Encore:
Hummingbird (Leon Russell cover)

Review – Ricardo D. Flores
Photos – Arianne Bergeron

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