Album Review: Joe Bonamassa – Live at the Greek Theatre
If there’s one thing that Live at the Greek Theatre radiates, it’s reverence. As one of the world’s premiere blues guitarists, Bonamassa is in a unique position to indulge in nostalgia, and live out his dreams of embodying his idols on stage. As such, his new live album is a two-hour tribute to the “Three Kings” of blues (Freddie, Albert, and B.B.), featuring virtuosic guitar playing for an adoring crowd, and it sounds pretty much exactly how one would expect it to. Two hours of blues covers is an undeniably niche product, but Bonamassa dedicates to his material, and makes a listen worthwhile.
The biggest knock against the album is its length. Its two discs run 126 minutes and 22 tracks, which is likely to stretch any casual listener’s patience. This problematic length is compounded by the live setting, which necessitates that there’s little variety in the production style, with strings on Cadillac Assembly Line being the only notable moment to stand out from the swinging drums and guitar licks. This is an album specifically for blues fans, and it makes no concessions to anyone not already immersed in the genre.
In spite of being something of a slog to get through in one sitting, Live at the Greek Theatre actually has a particular, unique energy. Between the crowd cheering, the lively backing band, and Bonamassa’s regularly showy guitar playing, one gets the impression that everyone in the room during recording was having a tremendous amount of fun. This energy is actually quite infectious, and if one closes their eyes, it’s easy to imagine you’re on stage with Bonamassa, basking in his reverence for the “Kings”. Going Down (a Freddie King number) has a rollicking piano lead, and charming backing vocals. Oh, Pretty Woman (Albert King) practically emanates swing and funk, and the screaming guitar lead just begs the listener to nod along with the beat.
Live at the Greek Theatre isn’t going to be everything to all people, but it’s not trying to be. It’s exactly what Bonamassa set out to create, no more and no less: a slick, polished homage to blues history. It’s much too long, but fans of the genre are unlikely to mind that, and will probably enjoy the good value the album provides. The production is repetitive, but in another light it’s pure and untarnished. Most people will know if they’ll enjoy Live at the Greek Theatre before they even hear the first note, but those that will are in for a treat.