So, a mere nine months after Joe Bonamassa last visited these shores, with his tribute to British Blues, he is back treading the boards with material from his latest album ‘Blues Of Desperation’. With his insatiable work ethic, Bonamassa puts many fellow musicians to shame with his seemingly never-ending output. The word “work” probably doesn’t belong in that sentence, as at no point does anything Bonamassa does seem like a chore. Here’s a guy that loves what he’s doing, and that’s plain for all to see. It just so happens that in doing so, he has become arguably the greatest blues-rock guitarist of his generation, loved by his fans, revered by his peers.
‘Blues Of Desperation’ was released to great acclaim from fans and the press alike, and “Part One” of the set features a generous selection from the album. Like an old-school theatre show, the lights dim, the side stage door opens and the dapper figure of Bonamassa walks out and takes his place in the wings as the intro tape begins. The taped intro of a conductor shouting “all aboard” leads into what else but the opening track from the latest album, ‘This Train’. The roar goes up as he takes his place front and centre with the first of many gorgeous guitars on show throughout the evening. The seven piece band waste no time in locking into the groove, but all eyes are on Joe Bonamassa, I’ve never seen an audience as studious as this. There’s very little movement, no shouting out, just full-on admiration, and more than a handful of frustrated guitarists making mental notes. This leads into the first of many covers of the evening, a stunning version of Clapton’s ‘Mainline Florida’, where the keyboards from the legendary Reese Wynans steal the show. (Clapton will also feature in “Part Two” of the show as the band roar through ‘Pretending’). Up next is my favourite from ‘Blues Of Desperation’, the stunning ’Mountain Climbing’, which features some sweet slide work from Bonamassa. The two female backing singers that have been added to the live show give the songs an extra dimension, and this belting track is just one of many that benefits from their addition. The new tracks continue with ‘Blues Of Desperation’ which opens with a fantastic piece of bass playing from the renowned Michael Rhodes. It was hard to see what it was that he was hitting his strings with in the darkness… a tuning fork maybe? Whatever it was, it sure as hell made an incredible sound. The entire band are on fire for the next several minutes with the horn section of Lee Thornburg and Paulie Cerra especially impressing. What can be said of drummer Anton Fig that hasn’t already been said a million times over? He is easily the most respected drummer playing today. The dude in the beret makes it look all so simple.
What about Bonamassa himself though? I used to think that he had god-given talent, but that just belittles the amount of practice and sheer determination that got him where he is today. His playing is sublime, there’s no other word for it. At times, he looks so consumed by the music that he could be the only person in the room, then he’ll give the band a quick nod, and they all come crashing back in. ‘How Deep This River Runs’ ends the brace of new tracks before the incredible ‘Boogie With Stu’ kicks in. While the UK got the ‘British Blues Explosion Tour’, the US got ‘The Three Kings Tour’, so it’s well received tonight when the band run through BB King’s ‘Never Make Your Move Too Soon’, then Albert King’s ‘Angel of Mercy’. The passion and respect that Bonamassa has for these legends is clear to see, as he wrings out every emotion he can muster with each note. Banter is at a minimum throughout the set, restricted to a few thank you’s between songs. The first time Bonamassa really talks to the crowd is to introduce the band, but who needs banter when the music does the talking? Introducing this incredible band, he takes time to point out how much the two Australian backing singers have brought to his music. If you caught the ‘Live At The Greek’ DVD, then you will be familiar with them. Two of the three featured on that DVD are here tonight, the wonderful Jade Macrae and Mahalia Barnes. Joe takes great pleasure introducing Mahalia as the daughter of Scots born Australian legend Jimmy Barnes, joking, “Everyone thinks Jimmy is Australian, but he’s Scottish!“. The two have worked on her tribute album to Betty Davis. If you are yet to familarise yourself with this incredible vocalist, then please check out the ‘Ooh Yeah’ album.
The remaining “Part Two” of the show is a mixture of solo Bonamassa tracks (of which ‘Dust Bowl’ is a real show stopper) and loving interpretations of blues gems. As mentioned, Clapton features again with ‘Pretending’, and there’s a stunning version of John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers’ ‘Little Girl’. The killer instrumental track ‘Black Winter/ Django’ is mind-blowing as Bonamassa’s fingers fly up and down the guitar neck as the band, minus the horns and backing singers, jam away in the background. After several spellbinding minutes, Bonamassa soaks up the applause before leading the band into the early Led Zeppelin classic ‘How Many More Times’. Pair this with a few bars and a verse of Free’s ‘The Hunter’, and it was manna from heaven. By my watch, the extended jam runs to over ten minutes as Bonamassa batters his Telecaster into submission… jaw dropping! The one song encore is an emotional version of ‘Hummingbird’, where the entire band are back on stage, giving a perfect example of how well the backing singers compliment the music. They take charge towards the end, and raise the song to another level. An incredible end to what can only be described as an ‘out of this world’ evening. Bonamassa continues to amaze with his talents. His singing has become stronger, and there really are no more superlatives left to describe his playing. His next venture is the ‘Live At Carnegie Hall’ acoustic multi-format project, scheduled for June 2017, then it’s the reunion of Black Country Communion. As ever, his relentless drive can only be marvelled at and admired. Before all that, he has more dates on this tour. With most of them sold out, beg, steal, or borrow a ticket… unless its Sheffield Arena… then you can just buy one!
Review: Dave Stott
Images: Dave Jamieson
Remaining tour dates –
Thursday 20th April London Royal Albert Hall (Sold Out)
Friday 21st April London Royal Albert Hall (Sold Out)
Saturday 22nd April Blackpool Opera House (Sold Out)
Monday 24th April Sheffield Arena