Joe Bonamassa’s new concert DVD, “Beacon Theatre: Live from New York,” isn’t advertised as a homecoming show, but in a very real sense, it was a return to his beginnings.
“That’s where I’m from,” Bonamassa — who performs Friday at Wichita’s Century II Concert Hall — said in a phone interview earlier this month. “I grew up in upstate (New York), but I used to live in New York City about seven blocks from the Beacon Theatre. The Beacon Theatre is significant because when I was a kid and had no money, I was living in New York and I was on an $11-a-day, $13-a-day budget. There was a little bodega across the street from the Beacon Theatre, where I used to buy a lottery ticket because I thought that was my only ticket out of here. And I would buy a lottery ticket, peanut butter and jelly and Ramen noodles. You go by that marquee and you’d see everybody playing there, from Steely Dan to Pat Metheny to Spyro Gyra to the Allman Brothers for 10 nights. And it’s like, man, can I ever make it there?
“When I was 22, 23 years old, that just seemed like insurmountable odds,” he said.
At age 22, Bonamassa, now 34, already was a recording artist, two albums into his career, having released “A New Day Yesterday” and “So, It’s Like That,” in 2002. He also was being touted in some circles as the next great blues-based guitarist, having been mentored in his early teens by the late great guitarist Danny Gatton and having opened some 20 shows for B.B. King at age 12.
But at that early point in his solo career, Bonamassa knew that reaching a level where he could play the Beacon Theatre was possible — if he put in the work.
On May 22, he will follow up the March release of the “Beacon” DVD with his new studio CD, “Driving Towards the Daylight.”
That new CD will mark his 10th studio album in a dozen years. There also was one other DVD, “Live from the Royal Albert Hall.” That 2009 show at the famous London theater, Bonamassa said, was the moment when he proved himself as a solo artist and showed he was ready to shine in the spotlight.
“Albert Hall trained me for the big moment in a pretty substantial way,” Bonamassa said. “My whole career was basically riding on that night. It could have flopped, and they would have said, well he’s just a blues guitar player out of his depth. Fair enough.”
Bonamassa stepped up to the plate at the Royal Albert Hall, and now on the “Beacon” DVD, he looks confident and in command of the stage — a feeling he said grew out of that 2009 concert.
On his studio albums, Bonamassa has shown steady growth, particularly compared to his previous half-dozen albums.
With “Driving Towards the Daylight,” Bonamassa focuses on his blues roots and makes a confident statement about how he is carving out an identity within this seminal music genre.
“The process really is make something different of it (blues). That was Kevin’s idea all along,” Bonamassa said, mentioning his long-time producer, Kevin Shirley. “He just wanted to make something different with the blues, and he did. We really had, some of that stuff I really had a go with. Like ‘Stones in My Passway’ and stuff like that.”
“Stones in My Passway” is a Robert Johnson song that gets converted from its raw, acoustic origins into a roaring rocker with bright, big electric riffs. And the song is a good example for how Bonamassa rocks up the blues on “Driving Towards the Daylight.” He also puts some big, chunky riffs into the Bill Withers tune “Lonely Town, Lonely Street,” while his cover of the Willie Dixon tune, “I Got All You Need,” gets an amped-up shuffle treatment.
There’s driving rock on Bonamassa’s own “Heavenly Soul,” while on “Dislocated Boy” (another original tune) he goes for a down and dirtier feel that nonetheless packs a solid punch.
Bonamassa said several of the songs from “Driving Towards the Daylight” will be in his set as he tours this spring, but otherwise, he said the “Beacon Theatre” DVD provides a good window into the kind of show fans can expect.