Joe Bonamassa came into 2013 feeling it was time to open a new chapter in his career.
“To me, you have to do that every once in a while. You can’t just keep playing the same tunes over and over again,” the guitarist said in a late-October phone interview. “I don’t want to become a tribute act to myself. ...
‘‘It’s not time to call it in, pack it in. It’s time to almost say we’re done with this part of our life. It’s time to invent the new one.”
So he decided to do something special that would encompass his musical life up to this point – something that no other artist had done.
He scheduled four shows at four different venues in London. Each show would focus on a different side of Bonamassa’s music and feature a different band lineup.
The result of this grand adventure can now be seen on four DVDs called Tour De Force. Each of the DVDs, which were released on Oct. 29, documents one of the four shows in London.
Seeing the shows now, one would never know that right up until the time of the shows, Bonamassa had reason to wonder if he had bitten off more than he could chew with this ambitious project.
The preparation process began with three weeks of rehearsals in California. This was followed by a warm-up tour in Europe, and then another couple of weeks of rehearsal in London – just before the actual four shows.
At first, things seemed to be going well, Bonamassa said. The rehearsals went as planned, and at the outset of the warm-up tour, Bonamassa and his bands were on fire. But that flame faded.
“It was weird, because the band came out on the tour like really playing great,” Bonamassa said. “Then, all of a sudden, we hit Luxembourg and all of sudden we just kind of decided to collectively forget how to play our instruments. It was really weird, because this was the start of it, and it was the worst possible time.”
There was no choice, though, but to move forward, and the problems that had surfaced during the warm-up shows would have to be addressed during the London rehearsals, with producer Kevin Shirley working with the bands to tighten up arrangements and nail down the live versions of the songs.
What helped Bonamassa was that by the latter stages of the final rehearsals, he had decided to let go of the pressure he was feeling – a lesson he had learned from doing several other concert DVDs earlier in his career, including 2012’s Beacon Theatre: Live From New York and a career-defining DVD, 2009’s Live From Royal Albert Hall, which included an on-stage collaboration with Eric Clapton.
“I have been down this road about 10 times before,” Bonamassa said. “You just go, if you trust the process and trust your ability as a musician, it generally will work out the way you want it. If you freak out and everybody gets uptight, then it’s going to sound uptight.
‘‘I just think, for me, you’re definitely better off just being nonchalant and it’s going to be what it is. If you make a clam, just keep going. Don’t freak, and just go.”
That’s exactly what Bonamassa and his bands did over the four nights in London. Together, the four DVDs showcase the depth of a song catalog Bonamassa has built over a 10-album solo career that began with the 2000 album A New Day Yesterday.
There’s also plenty of variety, as Bonamassa showcases high-powered rock in a trio format, his blues roots with an electric band supplemented by a horn section and even an acoustic side to his music as part of his wind-up show at Royal Albert Hall. Of course, the playing skills that have made Bonamassa one of music’s most acclaimed guitarists are on full display as well.
Bonamassa will return to the studio in January to open the next chapter in his career by recording a new album. Before those sessions happen, Bonamassa will tour this fall, playing a show that will be similar to the Royal Albert Hall concert. He’ll open with an acoustic set and then plug in for a second set, with the same musicians from Royal Albert Hall taking the stage with him (except for Arlan Schierbaum, who will be replaced by keyboardist Derek Sherinian).
“It’s trying to honestly make the best night of music I possibly can for the fans that have supported me over the years,” Bonamassa said. “So when they see it, they go ‘OK, I get it. You have two different bands.’ It’s like Barnum & Bailey in the three rings. They walk out and they go ‘Wow, that was really a cool experience all the way through, from start to finish.’ And that’s all I can really ask for. That’s what I try to give to the fans.”