Joe Bonamassa's a level-four badass 

A live review and images from the Performing Arts Center

Joe Bonamassa
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
Nov. 22

Donning in a tight gray suit, sporting a pair of small sunglasses, and wielding from a quiver of mostly Les Pauls, upstate New York fretboard phenom Joe Bonamassa, lit up the room as he and his kick-ass band rocked the Performance Art Center on Monday. With no opener on the bill, Bonamassa and crew brought the well-rehearsed goods for two hearty hours to the delight of about 1,100 guitar-heavy blues-rock fans.

It was nice and pleasantly surprising to see some ladies up in the house; and many of them not just girlfriends' of guitar players.

The band has been touring the new album, Black Rock, for almost a year straight, and it definitely showed. The all-business program was tight and pro to the max. The house mix was right on the money too, as is usually the case with the PAC.

The riff-heavy upbeat numbers were solid, but slow blues tunes like "So Many Roads," "If Heartaches Were Nickels," and "Sloe Gin" were where Bonamassa really shined — vocally and on his axe. He was smooth, strong, and clean, with perfect vibrato, tasty phrasing, plenty of fire, and great tone.

Bonamassa is a longtime level-four badass, so it was no surprise at all the big bag of solos burned in full effect. We had to let it slide that every single one featured his go to standard-issue Eric Johnson descending pentatonic lick (which is slightly less annoying than every other Gen X gunslingers' go to standard issue version of Stevie Ray's go to standard issue Albert King lick). Flash, speed, and chops still seem to dupe a surprising amount of people, even in the 21st century (particularly in this genre), so, for better or worse, it's still a healthy part of the package. At least Bonamassa has taken all his influences and, for the most part, come up with a voice of his own; and most of the guitar work these days is song-serving. And luckily, there is substantial strength to Bonamassa's songs. Icing is nice, but the cake has to be on time.

High points of the evening included Bonamassa's theremin work, the two sweet duet pieces between Joe and keyboardist Rick Melick (the first one of which ventured into some very tasty "No Quarter"-esque territory), the "Just Got Paid Today/Dazed and Confused" encore jam on the almighty Flying V, and pretty much every single thing Greenville native Bogie Bowles did on the drums.

Big props to Bowles for his 20 years of sobriety. Always cool to see a real mutha keep his nose clean. Bowles is a real class act.

The main highlight of the show was Bonamassa's smokin' acoustic number. With shades of Tommy Emmanuel, Stevie Ray, Eddie Van Halen, and even a pinch of Yngwie, Joe rocked the piss out of a free jam in E. Earning a well deserved standing ovation, it looked like it was as much fun for him as it was for us.

Bonamassa does Jimi so nicely that it would have been good to hear him throw down on some Hendrix, but alas, it was not to be. Maybe next time.

Bonamassa and his band rocked it proper. They were in top form and everyone got their money's worth. Good vibes and smiling faces filled the PAC. The ticket stub earned it's place in the scrap book. No question.

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