When Bonamassa was first on these shores I saw him three or four times in a three piece band. It seemed to fit him perfectly as he was able to develop his playing and stage persona without having to worry about fitting the timings of other musicians into his playing.
Over the years since, he has added keyboards, horn section, backing singers but I always remembered that 3 piece format fondly.

So his livestream from Austin City Limits on April 1at saw him going back to the simplified format and damn but he killed it.
Shorn of all the extra ‘stuff’ he held the eye from note 1 to note 1001 and ripped out a stunning set that had real force and not a little beauty.

Supported by Anton Fig on drums and Steve Mackey on bass as well as Jade MacRae on backing vox, this was more a power quartet than a true power trio but her vocals added a real depth alongside Joe and really worked in the form.

The show kicked off with ‘Oh, Beautiful’ and from the outset you could see that Joe was in the groove. Rocking the riff and prowling the stage like he owned it, the band powering out the bottom line a Joe tearing out a solo that had speed, depth and real touch. MacRae’s backing vocals were gorgeous and perfectly matched Bonamassa’s. This all set a baseline for the rest of the show and he didn’t drop below it at any point.

The song finished with a very rare sound these days – applause! Austin City Limits has a capacity of about 2750 under normal circumstances and there were 700 real human beings – socially distanced of course – in for the show. His last livestream from the Ryman had cardboard cutouts instead of people but here he had people to feed back against.

Switching to a Strat he ripped out a coruscating ‘Love Ain’t A Love Song’ before a cover of Gary Moore’s ‘Midnight Blues’ both dedicated to Gary Moore and positively reminiscent of his playing – a delightful tribute.

Most of the show was Bonamassa originals but he did include some worthy covers – a fine cover of ‘Jockey Full Of Bourbon’ (Tom Waits) and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘Scuttle Buttin’ ‘ as well as an incredible heartfelt version of Jeff Beck’s ‘Blues Deluxe’ - but for me it was his own material that really burned with Bonamassa’s fire and none moreso than ‘Wandering Earth’ which I haven’t seen him play before. Of course, he closed the main set on ‘Ballad Of John Henry’ (nice to see him playing the Theremin again) and then encored with ‘Woke Up Dreaming’ on acoustic and Robert Johnson’s ‘Cross Roads Blues’.

It's a very long set at around 2 ½ hours but there really isn’t a minute that felt unnecessary or filler, tons of solos but nothing wasted. Bonamassa in this format is really at the top of his game and he seemed to be having fun too. Can’t wait for the DVD.

Picture by Allison Morgan