DVD review: JOE BONAMASSA – Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening

JOE BONAMASSA – Joe Bonamassa Live At Carnegie Hall - An Acoustic Evening

Provogue [Release date 23.06.17]

From the opening Manhattan rooftop shots to the individual band instruments, the familiar team of producer Kevin Shirley and director Philippe Klose cleverly draws us into the latest J&R Adventures extravaganza.

‘Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening’  is a quasi world music meets blues set. Joe  Bonamassa tells us in the ‘behind the scenes’ segment of the bonus DVD, that it came about because he was warned about the venue’s unfriendly acoustics to electric instruments.  He further tells us this unplugged concert is more vocally based than for example, his previous  ‘An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House’ release.

Multi instrumentalist Eric Brazilian makes the most telling observation when he notes: “If you have great grapes you can make great wine”. The inference is that if you have the tools, the rest is down to the performance on the night.

And it’s that archetypical adventurous Bonamassa approach that makes for an exhilarating set by a nonet who had barely met 2 weeks before the concert.

As is often the case, its useful to watch the bonus DVD first before watching the concert, as the individual band members give us their insights into how it all gelled together.

The expanded ensemble is superbly tracked by Klose, whose opening lingering shots set the scene for the Carnegie Hall concert.

Where the audio CD fires the musical imagination, the DVD is an enveloping audio visual account of what went down on the night.

The band is seriously dressed for the occasion as Bonamassa explodes into life on ‘This Train’, on the back of Reese Wynans’s ‘Locomotive Breath piano prequel.

It’s a great rhythmic platform from which to start and is topped by Joe’s confident vocal, which is nicely offset by delicate bv’s and Tina Guo’s cello work.

The international band features Chinese cellist Tina Guo – such a vital presence on the mesmerising opening of ‘Drive’ – Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy and an Australian trio of backing vocalists, all of whom enjoy significant moments in their own right.

The stripped down version of ‘Drive’ places the emphasis Ramzy’s subtle tablas. He underpins a lovely ethereal sound generated by Guo’s two string erhu and Eric Brazilian’s mandolin, as they wrap themselves round Joe’s warm close-to-the mic vocal to great effect.

The unobtrusive camera angles almost evoke the song title as they settle on a horizontal shot of Joe flanked by all 3 backing singers, leading to a close up of his nimble acoustic work.

The song finds a perfect equilibrium that receives due recognition from the crowd, as Joe takes a half bow from his chair to offer thanks.

‘The Valley Runs Low’ enjoys an almost hymnal opening, before Joe’s vocal cuts through with real purpose on a gospel tinged song with a big call and response.

The flute led ‘Dustbowl’ is a sister track to the earlier ‘Drive’, but strikes out on a big uplifting chorus well suited to the combination of instruments and vocals.

The DVD focuses on the musical building blocks of the concert. The early inclusion of the radio friendly ‘Driving Towards The Daylight’ is an example of a layered piece with a slow building impetus. It relies on unplugged musical virtuosity, tonal depth and enough subtle dynamics to carry the listener to its conclusion.

There’s a lovely contextual shot of the venue from high above, before the cameras focus on the ensemble and then on Joe in particular.

The banjo led ‘Blue And Evil’ has a subtle eastern feel that bring a welcome contrast to one of the more pedestrian tracks of the night, while the jazzy, after hours club feel of ‘Livin Easy’ sits uneasily in the cavernous Carnegie Hall, despite Brazilian’s husky sax break. The perfunctory ending suggest it’s more of a link piece than the an essential song, while Gary Pinto joins Joe on lead vocal on ‘Get Back My Tomorrow’, another banjo inflected piece that resists being a full blown stomp, but finishes with an impressive crescendo.

Joe’s belated intro to the crowd is tracked by the cameras high above, before he rebuilds the momentum on the soulful and uplifting melody of ‘Mountain Time’. The cameras capture salient musical moments such as Reese Wynan’s piano fills and Joe’s repeated spine tingling top note over potent backing vocals, on a seamless piece with real feel.

‘Song Of Yesterday’ is denuded of its Zeppelin style bombast and focuses on a melodic sweep, perfectly framed by Ramzy’s percussion.

The rearranged Woke Up Dreaming’ takes in the ‘Flight Of The Bumblebee’ on a feverish duet by Bonamassa and Guo, on two alternative versions (check out the bonus DVD). The multi camera shoot superbly nails the duo’s technical brilliance as they squeeze every last nuance from a song that probably had Joe wishing he hadn’t worn a suit.

The vocal extravaganza of ‘Hummingbird’ and Bette Middler’s ‘The Rose’ perfectly bookend a double DVD that captures the magic as it unfolds. Together with the explanatory bonus DVD, there’s enough here to make it an essential purchase for old and new fans alike.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00

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