We had set aside our last night in New York for a concert by Joe Bonamassa. I’d booked the tickets before we left Australia, from the Madison Square Gardens website. As it happens we were staying just across the road from Madison Square Gardens and we went early to pick up the tickets and then came back for the show. It was only then that it dawned on me that the line we had joined was for Julio Inglesias – definitely not our choice of performer. Looking closer at the ticket I saw that it was for a concert at the Beacon Theatre, wherever that might be….
Back across the road, a doorman for our hotel instantly knew who we wanted to see and where the concert was. He hailed a taxi for us and sent us on our way. By the time we got there we were only about ten minutes late.
As it turned out, the Beacon Theatre was a wonderful ornate three-tiered theatre from times past and a much better place to be than Madison Square Gardens. It opened in 1929 for vaudeville acts, musical productions, drama, opera and silent film. In 1979 it was designated a national landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. From 1974 it has been a live music venue and has featured many acts including the Rolling Stones, Jerry Garcia, Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, James Taylor, Radiohead, and Queen. The Allman Brothers played more then two hundred times here and Bill Clinton had a private birthday party here in 2006 featuring the Rolling Stones.
Joe Bonamassa is in the centre, in the spotlight. Rick Melick is on the keyboards to the left, Tal Bergman on the drums to the right and Carmine Rojas on the bass at the front right. I can tell you this because I’m reading their names off the liner notes of the DVD and CD released of this concert. (To be precise, there were two nights and the DVD/CD selects from both).
Joe had several guests. The first of these is singer Beth Hart, in the spotlight at front left. She has frequently collaborated with Joe Bonamassa, particularly on Don’t Explain, a joint cover album of Blues classics. She is touring Europe with him in 2013.
Here we have a wider view that reveals some of the majesty of the Beacon Theatre. There are a couple of nine-metre tall Greek goddesses flanking the stage. Well, to be pedantic, they are actually flanking a proscenium arch (though it’s square in this case) so that the audience has a restricted viewpoint and doesn’t see the action from the side or the back. This was a Roman invention which is why it has perhaps some relevance here, in context of the classical decor including lions, frescoes and columns.
You might think I have used a wider lens here, or panned and joined multiple images together. But no, remember all my photos in New York were taken with a Fujifilm X100, which in conventional 35mm film terms has a prime lens with a focal length of 35mm. What you see is the scope of the lens; other images are cropped in, considerably.
When I made the booking I got the cheap tickets in the top tier, thinking that the sound’s going to be just as good up there, not particularly thinking about photographic possibilities. So this is a test of getting interesting images with a camera relatively unsuited to the occasion. Just don’t expect any head-and-shoulder portraits. The images still look fine though if you click on them for a much larger view.
Next musical guest was John Hiatt, a name that will be familiar to many of you. A renowned singer/ songwriter, his style is somewhere between Blues, folk-rock and country. His songs have been recorded with a kaleidoscope of eminent performers. For example, his song Riding with the King was recorded by Eric Clapton and B.B. King.
Here we have Joe Bonamassa and band, flanked by the two Greek Goddesses. I’d better talk about Joe now. Joe comes from a family with many generations of musicians and was something of a child prodigy, opening for BB King at the age of twelve. He is primarily a Blues guitarist. He also has a fine singing voice though on this occasion all the guests were singers and provided an extra breadth of style to the concert. The concert moods ranged from something like stadium rock to quiet lyrical interludes and searing Blues guitar solos. The guests played some of their own material and most of the rest were Bonamassa originals. Covers ranged from Leonard Cohen to Gary Moore to the Who (though that in itself was a Mose Allison cover).
The last guest was Paul Rogers. Paul is not to be confused with the late Jimmy Rogers who was a guitarist for Muddy Waters or with Roy Rogers who is a noteworthy slide guitarist who played with John Lee Hooker. (And those two in return are not to be confused with the country musicians Jimmy Rogers and Roy Rogers). Paul Rogers is an English singer/ songwriter who has been prominent since the early 1970s. He has played with a number of bands including Free and Bad Company and for the last two or three decades has mainly performed solo.
Here we are at the climax of the concert, with Joe on his toes delivering the crescendo to a searing guitar solo. People had started jumping up in front of me and moving around and it was difficult to find a clear view for a photo.
Just a few minutes later, this is the final applause and the band has just stopped playing.
This is a chandelier in the lobby on the way out, illustrating the grand display of the Beacon Theatre. At the time I thought the theatre to be older than it was because it reminded me in style of some theatres in Australia and New Zealand from late Victorian or Edwardian eras (say 1880-1910). Of course, it was reflecting the imperial glory of the silent screen moguls rather than the imperial glory of the British Empire. The candles in the candelabra, therefore, were presumably always electric.
A stirring, memorable performance, fitting for our last night in New York.
I will probably have only one or two posts in the next month as I have a Blues Festival or two to photograph. I will resume later with a series on lighthouses taken mainly on large format equipment in 1987.