Last year, blues musician Joe Bonamassa, whose hegemony and popularity seems to currently reign supreme within the genre, embarked on an amphitheatre tour in the States; fourteen concerts that showcased his penchant and profoundly emotional connection with retro blues. Billed as 'The Three Kings', it was his live tribute to the music of Albert King, BB King, and Freddie King... unfortunately BB died just a few weeks before the tour commenced, which I guess would have transformed his tribute into a far more poignant one. 'Live at the Greek Theatre' contains one of those performances in its entirety, filmed at the Greek Theatre in LA on 29th August. Released as a double CD set, 3-LP deluxe edition and BD, it's the 2DVD package which has been made available for review here. One disc contains the show, and another is loaded with a handful of bonus features.
So, then, disc one, which contains the Greek Theatre concert in the form of a whopping two and a quarter hours film. This commences with footage of a thirteen year old Bonamassa, lifted from an historical TV segment from 'Real Life with Jane Pauley', intercut with archival snippets of BB King eulogising him: "You don't always know where the children get this from... but he got it!" It serves as a reminder of just how talented Bonamassa was at such a young age - indubitably a blues prodigy - and, not forgetting, of course, his career was kick-started at the age of just 12 years old when he opened for BB King himself. After a few minutes, this abruptly cuts to the present, with a majestically sweeping shot of a fleet of tour buses driving down a long, open road. This is pure blues cinema... and the show hasn't even started yet!
Once the show commences, that's the sole focus of the film, and it's a sonic feast for retro blues fans, as tracks from the three Kings, plus a small handful of other covers, are given all the respect, reverence and performance dynamics they deserve, from a man who's discernibly passionate about each of them. Backed by a ten-piece band - drums, guitar and bass are supplemented by a brass section, a Hammond organ, and three female backing vocalists. In a mid-show monologue, Bonamassa states: "Behind me are ten of the greatest musicians in the world; truly, the world's greatest band", before introducing each of them. Whether you agree with his, perhaps, overly enthusiastic "world's greatest band" claim, they were undeniably on fire at the Greek Theatre. However, the primary focus (after all, this is another release in Bonamassa's ever-expanding solo discography), is on the man himself, who plays his arse off throughout. Equally as impressive as his guitar/vocal abilities is his onstage visage, with a wide array of contorted looks; an outward emotional expression discernible in any musician's impassioned performance, I guess. Although, he's a long way from Devin Townsend's unparalleled range of gurns, grins, grimaces and other random facial contortions!
There are two sound options for the concert film - 2.0 and 5.1 tracks, both of which sound great (albeit the 2.0 mix seems to carry a little more resonance and depth... this might just be on my own equipment, though). And, visually, the picture quality is generally great for SD, albeit varying in depth, clarity, sharpness and grain as the editing transitions between footage of a well-lit stage and darker shots. Sound-wise and picture-wise, though, it's probably about as good as could be expected for a 2016 release on the DVD medium. I can't comment on the HD presentation of the show, but imagine it's something of a step up, at least in terms of clarity... although the grain, to be fair, due to its variance, would appear to be from source, rather than any kind of inherent flaw of the medium, so probably exists on the BD, too.
As for the second disc, the main attraction is a rather enjoyable 43 minute featurette that's been named 'Growing Up Joe - A Conversation with Joe's Parents', which involves both mum and dad, sat on a sofa, sharing memories of their son growing up, from the moment he "wanted to play like dad" and, at six and a half years old, the realisation that they "knew he had an amazing gift and talent." It's a laidback, candid chat as the anecdotes and random recollections are reeled off in quick succession, including their memories of nearby golfers who used to complain about the noise coming from the Marshall stacks in the family garage as Bonamassa Jr. would be rocking it out. His parents also visit some key locations from the past, walking and chatting along snowy streets, reminiscing in their memories and parental pride. It's quite an endearing watch. We also have a music video for 'Riding with the Kings'; 'Caveman's Hacked iPhone - Behind the Scenes' (5 minutes of just what it says), and 'Joe's Big Fat Greek Photo Gallery' - a near 6 minutes' slideshow set to music, from soundcheck photos, backstage pictures, and shots of the show itself.
Beyond merely flying the flag for the genre in the twenty first century, I think it's fair to say that Bonamassa is also some kind of contemporary blues philanthropist. Apparently, a share of the profits from both 'The Three Kings' tour and his 2014 tribute to Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf were donated to 'Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation', a non-profit organisation "Bonamassa founded in 2011 that promotes the heritage of the blues to the next generation, funds music scholarships, and supplements the loss of music education in public schools." Admirable, Mr, Bonamassa, it must be said. And 'Live at the Greek Theatre' is certainly a must-have release for fans of both the man himself and retro blues.
LIVE AT THE GREEK THEATRE
Review by Mark Holmes
137:00 (Disc One)
23rd Sept 2016
1) Beginnings; 2) See See Baby; 3) Some Other Day, Some Other Time; 4) Lonesome Whistle Blues; 5) Sittin' On The Boat Dock; 6) You’ve Got To Love Her With A Feeling; 7) Going Down; 8) I'll Play The Blues For You; 9) I Get Evil; 10) Breaking Up Somebody's Home; 11) Angel Of Mercy; 12) Cadillac Assembly Line; 13) Oh, Pretty Woman; 14) Let The Good Times Roll; 15) Never Make Your Move Too Soon; 16) Ole Time Religion; 17) Nobody Loves Me But My Mother; 18) Boogie Woogie Woman; 19) Hummingbird; 20) Hide Away; 21) Born Under A Bad Sign; 22) The Thrill Is Gone; 23) Riding With The Kings (Credits)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...tracks from the three Kings, plus a small handful of other covers, are given all the respect, reverence and performance dynamics they deserve, from a man who's discernibly passionate about each of them."