St. Augustine Amphitheatre; St. Augustine, FL • May 10, 2018
by Michelle Wilson
There are few artists on today’s music scene who can mesmerize concertgoers for over two hours, but that is exactly what Joe Bonamassa and his remarkable band did in northern Florida at the incomparable St. Augustine Amphitheatre. The weather was pristine, the vibe was relaxed and the audience was ready. Taking the beautifully lit stage at 7:30pm, the impeccably dressed master blues rocker gave the 4,000 seasoned fans in attendance exactly what they came for – Joe, Joe and more Joe. “No disrespect to the fans in Atlanta, but you guys get the loudest, rowdiest crowd award!” joked the axe wizard.
Bonamassa is backed on this tour by a seven-piece all-star band including Michael Rhodes (bass), Anton Fig (drums), Lee Thornburg (trumpet), Paulie Cerra (saxophone/vocals) and Reese Wynans (keys) as well as Australian backup singers Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins. Witnessing the sheer joy that lights up the face of veteran keyboardist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artist, Wynans, even after all these years of performing, was one of the most heartwarming highlights of the evening. While Bonamassa is renown for his searing, face-melting guitar solos, he also humbly stepped back, introducing all of his band members and allowing each one to shine, and shine they did.
Opening with killer versions of four new tracks dangled from a forthcoming album, “King Bee Shakedown,” “Evil Mama” (which kicks off with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” drum intro), “Just Cause You Can” and “Self Inflicted Wounds” (with a more progressive Pink Floyd/”Great Gig In The Sky” feel to it thanks to MacRae’s unreal notes), Bonamassa showcased some promising fresh material.
On the Albert King cover, “I Get Evil,” horn and keys solos were abundant, but it was “No Good Place For The Lonely” that was a real highlight of the evening. Wynans outdid himself on keys, even standing for part of the song, while Bonamassa’s killer solo at the end left the rapt audience breathless. There was a fun little jam between Bonamassa and bassist Rhodes during “How Deep This River Runs,” seguing into a totally funkadelic keys opening on the Albert King cover, “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” which also featured a trumpet solo from Thornburg and another unreal solo from the guitar phenom.
At one point, the refreshingly witty Bonamassa apologized for being late (which he was not, actually), and explained that his face, head and hair looked like Gary Busey’s mugshot, which prompted him to get a haircut in Orlando. Joking about wanting to look suave for us folks tonight and paying seven dollars at a Supercuts, he explained that this was why they were late to the venue. They may have been late on arriving, but the show went off on time without a hitch.
Another hilarious moment involved Bonamassa vs. a “giant prehistoric flying insect” while playing. It “hit me square in the f-king face! But I am a professional and the show must go on.” Indeed it did!
Following band intros including standing ovations, the band launched into just a tremendous “Slow Train,” with featured vocalists Tippins, MacRae and Cerra, paired with the extremely moving “Driving Towards The Light,” featuring another great solo from Wynans. In a bittersweet moment, the gentleman next to me confided that this song always makes him cry because it got him through cancer. He had handwritten, autographed lyrics from Bonamassa.
The last three songs preceding the encore were just a whole lotta fun, as the band tackled two more Led Zeppelin covers, “Boogie With Stu” and “How Many More Times,” with Bonamassa’s “Last Kiss” sandwiched in between. Just before 9:30pm, the band briefly left the stage and returned to close it out with “Hummingbird.” The show was over literally in the blink of an eye.
Bonamassa had never played in St. Augustine, but he was quick to assure the crowd that he surely would be back. From the reaction, there is no doubt that the throngs of fans in attendance will be back next time as well for the quality show they received. It was, undoubtedly, worth every penny.