Friday 6th May 2022
The Royal Albert Hall, London
The two tour buses parked outside the stage entrance signalled the long-awaited return of the celebrated Blues-Rock juggernaut that is American guitarist and singer-songwriter, Joe Bonamassa, to London's legendary Royal Albert Hall for the first time since April 2019, thanks to you know what, for what was the second of two consecutive concerts on Friday night. The eager anticipation of the return of his traditional RAH residency, alongside another hand-picked group of world-class musicians was even more palpable, given that Joe being the prolific Joe he is, had released, in one shape or form, five further albums, since he aired material from his last studio album 'Redemption', just over three years ago.
The lights dimmed suddenly for a punctual 7.30pm start, to the recorded and thoughtful intro of 'Welcome Back', before the spectacular RAH lighting unveiled Bonamassa's septet to rapturous applause, with the dapper man himself, suited and booted with his trademark slicked back hair and shades, plus his gleaming red guitar, already rocking back and forth in the spotlight to 'Evil Mama', from the aforementioned 'Redemption', that not only set the scene for the evening, with an awesome Bonamassa solo, but was also complemented by a wonderful Hammond B3 solo from Rock and Roll Hall Of Famer, Reese Wynans.
If amazing guitar solos were the flavour of the evening, then Joe's frequent swapping of guitars from his axe arsenal, no doubt had the guitar geeks in the audience salivating. As was the case with the title track from 'Dust Bowl', which understandably made my compadre, proudly wearing his old Dust Bowl t-shirt very happy, testament to the fact that despite being eleven years old now, both were in good nick! "Thank you", exclaimed Bonamassa, before he launched into 2014's, 'Love Ain't A Love Song', from 'Different Shades Of Blue', that not only saw another exceptional solo from that foot tappin' master Wynans from behind his school desk, but also showcased that welcome added dimension from Joe's outstanding backing vocalists, Jade Macrae and Dani De Andrea.
The first lump in the throat moment of the night for mine was Bonamassa's cover of the oh, so badly missed, Gary Moore's 'Midnight Blues'. It means so much that Gary's legacy lives on through guitarists such as Joe and Bernie Marsden, and even though he could never beat the live, atmospheric version from Gary Moore & The Midnight Blues Band, this was a fitting tribute from Bonamassa with stand out vocals. Not so sure though, what those of our fraternity who saw Joe play Mr. Kyps back in the day, would make of him nowadays with choreographed backing singers on 'The Heart That Never Waits', from his latest, 'Time Clocks', but what the hell, given his fans were whooping with delight when he exchanged his guitar mid-song, to caress a delicate "you could hear a pin drop" solo, before changing back and blowing that very same audience away.
Another live newbie, and a highlight of the set, 'I Didn't Think She Would Do It', from 2020's 'Royal Tea', was an opportunity for the fedora wearing rhythm guitarist Josh Smith to add his tuppenuth to this groovy/funky track that was recorded at Abbey Road, an album that was inspired by Bonamassa's admiration for the British guitar heroes he listened to in his formative years, which even got Mr. Double Trouble himself, Reese, off of his seat! Indeed, we were once again blessed to witness Stevie Ray Vaughan's right hand (and left hand) man, given that we had also had the privilege on Tuesday night of seeing another Hammond God, albeit of a different genre, namely Focus's Thijs Van Leer, and Wynans amazing keys on the following 'Just Cuz You Can', another from 'Redemption', just seemed so very apt.
A departure from the previous night's setlist, resulted in the second lump in the throat moment of the evening, when (2002's 'So, It's Like That's) 'Pain and Sorrow' was replaced by the title track from 2007's 'Sloe Gin'. This took me back to the very first time I saw Joe at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire, just over fourteen years ago, and despite it being a Tim Curry cover, Bonamassa has made this classic his very own, with 'that' guitar solo once again making the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention, indeed an epic that was made even more epic tonight, with some great Floydish sounding backing vocals from both Jade and Dani.
A man of few words, Bonamassa finally broke his silence, not only to introduce his band, that also included the sublime engine room of Steve Mackey on Fender bass pickup plus Greg Morrow on drums and vocals, but also to explain in the vernacular, that he had just turned 45 last Sunday and how gratifying it was to back for his eleventh show at his "second home". Indeed, we were there in 2009 for his very first RAH show. How time flies, a bit like tonight's set, as the tightness of the band was again evident on another from 'Royal Tea', and 'Conversation with Alice', with both Joe's and Josh's guitar work ending with them playing extended harmony lines together, making this a modern guitar anthem. 'Royal Tea' continued being served with 'Lonely Boy', a Rockabilly song that took on a toe tappin' heavyweight feel tonight, featuring some brilliant soloing from Messrs Smith and Bonamassa, plus an extended boogie woogie solo from Wynans, essentially a jam that got the standing ovation from a demographically diverse crowd, that it so richly deserved.
They closed out with the driving title track from 2009's 'The Ballad Of John Henry', with its Eastern vibe backing vocals, a la Zeppelin, thoughtfully thrown in to the mix, which also saw Joe hand his plectrum to a delighted punter in the front row, before heading towards his trusty theremin, and then finishing by raising his guitar into the air and shouting "You've been fantastic". You weren't too bad yourself mate. Indeed, some of us were there when you first visited these shores, and memorably threw your guitar up in to the air at Sutton's Boom Boom, that went straight through a polystyrene ceiling tile!
How times have changed given this cavernous venue, that had now plunged into darkness. 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 the audience transfixed, including a taste of Flamenco plus a real Townshend 'Tommy' acoustic feel to it.
Bonamassa's parting shot was the story behind 'Mountain Time', another from 'So, It's Like That'. Essentially his pal Will Jennings had just hit the jackpot writing 'My Heart Will Go On' for "some Canadian chick". Despite this, Jennings still agreed to meet up with Joe for a smoke etc. and, as they say, the rest is history. Cue the third and last lump in my throat from the night, as they built and despatched this titanic and defining classic, leaving yours truly a blubbering wreck. "Thank you very much" said Bonamassa, as he removed his sunglasses, before 'There's No Business Like Showbusiness' rang out around this wonderful venue, celebrating its 150th anniversary. Indeed, 'Happier Times' are back.
AJ (pictures courtesy of Laurence Harvey and Simon Green)