Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Blues Rock Guitar Blitzkrieg Over Santa Fe With Joe Bonamassa And The Ryan McGarvey Band

Joe Bonamassa
The Ryan McGarvey Band
The Santa Fe Brewing Company
Santa Fe, New Mexico
September 23, 2008

Concert Review by Nightwatcher

It was a wonderfully warm early fall day in the high desert in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but as pleasing as the weather was, it was nothing in comparison to the molten blues firepower which was to be had as the "New King Of The Blues", guitarist Joe Bonamassa touched down to earth to give us mere mortals a generous helping of guitar god worthy wizardry at The Santa Fe Brewing Company.

First up was Albuquerque's own Ryan McGarvey, who, stoked to be opening for Bonamassa, came to play -- and play he did. McGarvey put on an incredible one hour show, playing a copious amount of original new material which will probably be on his upcoming second album. More than ably assisted by Texas born bassist Kevin Kraybill and drummer K.C. White, McGarvey reinforced being one of the cream of the crop of up and coming blues rock guitarists. Alongside Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, these two are leading the way in the blues guitar prodigy sweepstakes. Fresh from appearing in front of over 11,000 strong a week and a half earlier at the prestigious Telluride Blues & Brews Fest in Colorado, the band, from the opening song, "Ain't Enough Whiskey/Show Me The Way" all the way through to the finale, a smoking cover of the Ted Nugent classic "Stranglehold" demonstrated a tightness which would be the envy of many more seasoned performers.

Then there was Mr. Bonamassa, who although might not have been feeling up to par earlier in the day, to the point of canceling a scheduled early morning radio appearance, put on an absolutely stunning display of exactly why he is considered "The New King Of The Blues". I can't think of a single performer in the blues, or the rock field for that matter, who arguably is better right now. From the opening notes of the set opener, "Spike Driver Blues (The Ballad Of John Henry)", a new song rumored to be the title track of his upcoming studio release, all the way through to a spellbinding encore of "One Of These Days/Asking Around For You", he made it quite clear that like it or not, he's the one to beat. I honestly can't recall the last time I've been left with my jaw dropped by a performance, but this one, this night left me that way.

If this is Bonamassa under the weather, I'd love to see him again on this tour when he's 100%, as he's playing with more fire and finesse than I've ever heard him play, either live or on record. A fact affirmed by the several standing ovations received by Bonamassa and Co. during the show, culminating in a rousing one at the end, as the strains of Ethel Mermen belting out "There's No Business Like Show Business" accompanied the final bows, leaving another crowd stunned walking out in the night in its wake. Whether it's filtering the blues mastery of Buddy Guy, awe inspiring acoustic work or channeling the classic heavy area rock moves of Jimmy Page (complete with Theramin) on a devastating streamlined version of ZZ Top's "Just Got Paid/Dazed And Confused," all were handled with taste, passion and fury worthy of the finest players to ever pick up the instrument.

Serious consideration should also be given to Bonamassa's band, which includes ex David Bowie bassist Carmine Rojas, drummer Bogie Bowles and Aussie born keyboardist Rick Melick, who all shone brightly this night, particularly Bowles, whose rock solid skins work would sometimes give way to Keith Moon worthy fills, and really epitomizes the phrase "driving the train" when referring to a drummer leading the way, as he can be considered the conductor of this express in many ways.

Much is made of Bonamassa's stellar guitar work, and rightly so. Being voted Guitar Player Magazine's 2007 and 2008 "Blues Guitarist Of The Year" in their annual Reader's Poll will certainly focus attention upon that. However it must be pointed out that his vocal abilities deserve just as high a rating. One thing which holds back many blues guitarists from reaching a bigger audience comes down to the fact that as fantastic their abilities on guitar are, their vocals just aren't strong enough. That's certainly not the case here. All throughout the 90 minute set the sheer power of his voice was staggering. A fact no more evident when near the end of the show, at a point when most are on their last legs vocally, during the encore of "One Of These Days/Asking Around For You", he stepped away from the mic and could be heard almost as loud as when before it. A feat I hadn't personally witnessed since seeing the late great Steve Marriott do the exact same thing while touring with a later version of Humble Pie in the early 80's, and yet another affirmation of his growth in every area.

There are some rare shows which leave an indelible mark on ones memory, and this was one of those such performances which will be in this writer's brain forever, or until Alzheimer's sets in, whichever comes first. The bottom line here is this was one for the ages, and if you get the opportunity to catch either one of these galvanizing performers in your area, by all means do not hesitate, as you do so at the peril of missing one of the best shows of your life, guaranteed.

For your viewing and listening pleasure, please enjoy the encore performance of "One Of These Days/Asking Around For You", live at The Santa Fe Brewing Company 9-23-2008 :

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