By Steve Newton
Man, was I ever stoked for Joe Bonamassa’s show–the first of three nights–at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver last night.
For starters, the dude’s a wicked guitarist, as most folks know, and his latest album, Redemption, blew me away, especially tracks like “Molly O”, “Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should”, and the bluesy AF “Self-inflicted Wounds”.
Plus, I’d heard that Joe’s current touring band includes ace drummer Anton Fig–who rattled the skins on Late Night with David Letterman for decades–and more importantly stone-cold keyboard great Reese Wynans, who spent many years playing with one of the few guitarists who blew Bonamassa away: Stevie Ray Vaughan.
So when me and my best-man buddy Ferg took our seats in Row 26 in the centre of the mezzanine section, just a little back from the soundboard, we figured the next two hours or so would be nothing but funky, guitar-drenched blues-rock of the first order.
But the sound was awful from where we were. You could barely hear Fig’s drums, and Wynans’ organ just washed over everything. Joe’s guitar and vocals did not fare much better. It was just one big muddled mess.
After the first four songs–which included two of my faves from Redemption–it looked like the debilitating audio bugs were not going to be weeded out, and I considered heading down to the soundboard to let the guys know something was seriously wrong about 20 feet behind them. But I’ve learned from previous experience that sound guys don’t cotton much to being told their work sucks, so I just sat there and put up with it. I mean, the reviewer tickets were comps after all.
Thank Christ for that.
You could hear enough to tell that the uber-talented musicians were smokin’ down there, but who gives a shit when the result of their efforts is so dismal by the time it reaches you? By the ninth song, when Bonamassa pulled out a Flying V to channel my mainman Albert King on “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home”, the sound was still subpar.
About an hour into the show things improved slightly–as if one of the sound guys had finally clued in that the SHITTY SOUND button was stuck in the ON position–and the drums and bass kicked in, but the improvement didn’t last for long.
Before the regular set was done me and Ferg decided enough was enough, but on the way out we checked how things were sounding down on the main floor, and it was a whole nother world down there. You could hear all the instruments just fine. It sounded like you’d expect a pricey concert at a reputable live venue to sound. But the Queen E. attendant with the powerful flashlight kept giving us the “where did you f**kers standing in the stairway come from?” vibe, so we had to split even though a sweet Zeppelin cover was going down.
I should mention that I also experienced unacceptable audio at a Joe Bonamassa gig several years ago, in the balcony of the Orpheum Theatre, another prized Vancouver venue where you rarely have complaints about the sound. So I don’t know what the problem is. I’m sure Bonamassa hires the finest sound techs he can find, and they do their best, but man–I hope things work out better next time he’s in town.
Or they could just seat me in the lower orchestra, centre section, Row 3 or 4 maybe. Can’t be too bad up there.