Thursday 25th April 2019
The Royal Albert Hall, London
Celebrated Blues-Rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Joe Bonamassa returned to the legendary Royal Albert Hall in London for the first time since April 2017 for three concerts last week following his October 2018 UK Arena Tour. Once again, the mouthwatering prospect of Joe performing alongside a hand-picked group of world-class musicians playing material from his latest studio album 'Redemption', and his 2016 milestone album 'Blues of Desperation', plus, of course, classic Bonamassa fan favourites, was too good to miss. In fact we were there the first time Joe made his debut at the RAH in May 2009 and indeed some amongst us were there when Bonamassa first visited these shores, where JB memorably threw his guitar up in to the air at Sutton's Boom Boom which went straight through a polystyrene ceiling tile! No danger of that happening tonight, at the cavernous RAH, as the Bonamassa virgins and veterans assembled on the Thursday night to witness the recording and touring phenomenon's juggernaut rock and roll on.
Entering to the strains of 'James Bond', the similarly dapper Bonamassa, suited and booted with his trademark slicked back hair and shades, moved from one legend to another, namely Muddy Waters, and a cover of 'Tiger In Your Tank', Joe's energy immediately evident as he ventured, not for the last time, to the edge of the stage, for a solo. What a loosener, as the breakneck pace continued, as Nashville based bass guitarist Michael Rhodes stepped forward on the foot tapping and, no doubt, Johnny Winter influenced 'King Bee Shakedown', from his latest album, with Joe sharing his love, performing another on the money solo, on the opposite side of the stage. The funky 'Evil Mama' showcased the awesome pinkies of former Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble keys man Reese Wynans, who himself recently released his debut solo album 'Sweet Release', with of course, the recording dynamo JB guesting. Bonamassa playfully cupped his ears demanding appreciation for Wynans solo, although not be outdone, Joe prowled around the stage before rocking back and forth on another exquisite solo. JB's slower Blues guitar intro on 'Just Cos' You Can Don't Mean You Should', was not only complemented by Reese's keys and Joe's guitar outro, but also spotlighted Bonamassa's undoubted vocal ability, given perhaps that had been lost in the frenetic start.
A man of few words, Joe thanked the crowd, before maintaining the slower pace with 'Self-Inflicted Wounds', another track from 'Redemption'. If any track was testament to Bonamassa's influences, and more importantly, his widening musical appeal, then this was it, with great atmospheric backing vocals from Australia duo Jade MacRae and Mahalia Barnes (Jimmy Barnes daughter), Jade's superb solo gave Floyd's 'The Great Gig In The Sky' a run for its Oz dollars. The evening was well and truly on track. Cue 'This Train' from 'Blues Of Desperation', with its duel guitar/keys opening, also featuring solos from Wynans, Rhodes, Paulie Cerra on Saxophone and of course Bonamassa, plus choreographed guitar rockin' a la Status Quo from Joe and Michael thrown in for good measure. The Eastern influenced drum intro by Anton Figg (formerly in David Letterman's House Band and who has also appeared on The Simpsons) on the epic title track of 'Blues Of Desperation', melded into another effortless front of stage Bonamassa slide guitar solo and our seemingly endless diet of Blues fillet steak continued with the delectable 'No Good Place For The Lonely'.
For the Bonamassa veterans like myself, Reese's keys intro took us back to 2007 and the title track from 'Sloe Gin', which to many is still the defining JB track, albeit a Tim Curry cover. Twelve years ago, none of us would have imagined Joe playing this classic with a brass section and backing singers, but Bonamassa is a different proposition nowadays and to be fair this added depth and a freshness to its performance, although you can never take away THAT JB guitar solo. Wow! Joe then took his shades off and crammed in both his anecdotes and introductions in one time out. "How are you feeling ladies and gents?" as Bonamassa shared with the audience that this was indeed the tenth anniversary of his first RAH performance and how he had gone on since then to tour the globe plus the fact that a lot of fans think he is British! Jokingly, he pretended to be emotional whilst wiping the sweat away from his brow with a towel, as he also told his RAH coffee mugs story, introduced his seven great musicians including Tower Of Power trumpeter Lee Thornburg and, oh yes, divulged that by Friday he'd have played to over sixteen thousand people during his three-day RAH residency. Bit different to The Boom Boom eh?
In fact the last five songs of Joe's set, including 'Sloe Gin', were classic covers. Delaney & Bonnie's up-tempo 'Well Well' saw another Wynans solo, whilst Figg's delicate mid-section percussion work provided the basis for another explosive Bonamassa masterclass. And just like Joe's performance at The Hampton Court Festival in June last year, Joe was joined on stage once again by special guest Kirk Fletcher as they duly despatched the Rock 'n' Roll of BB King's 'Boogie Woogie Woman'. Now reverting back to a four-piece, it was more like a case of two for one with Willie Dixon's 'Tea For One/I Can't Quit You Babe', the former, so reminiscent of Gilmour, greeted with a cry of "Oh Yeah!" by the guy sitting near to me - the latter so reminiscent of the influence of the slow slow blues of Gary Moore. Joe's outstanding range from quiet to loud not so much making that guitar weep but definitely making it sing, and deservedly getting a standing ovation. No time to sit down as JB finished with Led Zeppelin's 'How Many More Times'. "Oh my God" the same fella in row my yelled, as Bonamassa moved around the stage imperiously, beckoning the delirious crowd, before throwing them a final pick and lifting his guitar into the air for the last time, thankfully, without a polystyrene ceiling tile in sight!
The inevitable encore saw JB stride out of the dark on to the stage on his own with his trusty acoustic guitar solo in hand for 'Woke Up Dreaming' from his 2003 album 'Blues Deluxe' which really had a bit of everything including a taste of Flamenco plus a real Townshend 'Tommy' acoustic feel to it. The bad news was that there was no time for 'India' in the 135 minute bladder busting set, but the good news was, that there was time for another defining JB classic 'Mountain Time', with amazing harmonies between Michael and Joe, building into its glorious climax, once again complemented by the additional depth of both the horn section and backing vocals. As he left the stage to rapturous applause, JB saluted the crowd, as his band of brothers and sisters simultaneously took a deserved bow. His exit as cinematic as his entrance. Indeed, tonight, his delighted fans, young and old, were well and truly shaken and stirred. The name's Bonamassa .... Joe Bonamassa.
AJ (pictures courtesy of John Hayhurst)