Joe Bonamassa at the Santa Barbara Bowl (Aug. 25, 2015)
Paul Wellman/file

This Tuesday, August 25, Joe Bonamassa rocked the Santa Barbara Bowl with his “Three Kings Tour.” The show paid homage to three of the most influential American blues musicians: Albert King, B.B. King, and Freddie King. Bonamassa, celebrated blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist, alongside his ten piece band, honored the “Three Kings” with a two hour musical tribute, in which he played 21 classic blues songs by the aforementioned artists.

Bonamassa is no stranger to the blues — at only twelve years old, he opened for B.B. King, and has since released fifteen solo albums in the last thirteen years, as well as receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Blues Album two years ago.

As a result, it comes as no surprise that the Santa Barbara show pulled in a considerable crowd, as fans of all four blues musicians flocked to the Bowl to hear classic blues songs of days gone by performed live.

Bonamassa and his band kicked off their set at 7:30 PM with no opening band preceding them – a bold move in my opinion, as fans continued to flood into the venue until 8:30, but one that served its purpose well: this was not a show to introduce up and comers, nor was it one that needed a second band to fill the seats. Bonamassa’s band members are nearly as renowned as he is. Drummer Anton Fig is well-known for his performance in David Letterman’s house band, the CBS Orchestra, while pianist and organist Reese Wynans has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s band, and Australian singer-songwriter Mahalia Barnes, needing no introduction of her own, rounded out the impressive backup vocal band.

The collection was a sight to behold: saxes, trombones, drums, guitars, organs, and three back-up singers glowing in front of the silver drapes onstage, with Bonamassa front and center, wielding a variety of fifty-year-old guitars. With the combination of classic instruments, amplifiers, and throwback attire, fans were transported back to a time when rock was young and the blues were revered.

Bonamassa delivered powerhouse vocals true to the Kings, hitting both the extreme highs and lows demanded by the genre, making him one of the few singers alive today able to do classics like “Angel of Mercy” by Albert King and “Let The Good Times Roll” by B.B. King justice. However, Bonamassa’s vocal talent was overshadowed by his greater passion: the guitar. While nearly every musician in the band got a chance to solo at least once, complete with a literal spotlight, Bonamassa’s shredding was the standout moment of every song. He went through nine different classic B.B. King doppelganger guitars in his set, coaxing out melodies with both virtuoso precision and unbridled soul.

While the show’s official set was disappointingly brief at only two hours long, Bonamassa returned to the stage to perform three encore songs, ending on a fitting high note with a dynamic performance of “The Thrill is Gone” by Bonamassa’s childhood inspiration, B.B. King.


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