Tuesday 12th June 2018
Hampton Court Palace Festival
With the necessary style for such a prestigious setting, Joe Bonamassa’s 8-piece band enter onto the stage, which commands one complete side of the historic courtyard, to great applause and come together to launch into 'All Aboard' as an introduction to their set. Joe saunters in to join them giving the audience a teasing taster of his legendary guitar playing using this veracious track as an excellent warm up for the band, instruments, mood and audience. The majestic setting of the impressive Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII's favourite royal residence, creates a suitable arena for Joe to share his love of classic Blues to what was initially a rather refined and well behaved foot tapping audience of over 2,000 dedicated fans.
Wearing his traditional black suit, crisp white shirt and sunglasses Joe was primarily engrossed in faultless delivery of his tracks using the near replication of his March 2018 set list for his supporters at the beginning of this Palace concert. His interaction with the audience was very minimal to start as he focussed his concentration on the absorbed preciseness of his play, this being reflected in his pained movement and facial expressions which at times gave the impression of it being a torturous affair for him rather than one of enjoyment! His guitar play was like a fierce and blatantly transparent battle for superiority between man and his machine as to who was in command but with Bonamassa’s thorough and absolute movements victory was soon claimed to be his.
It took until the fourth track on his set list and embarking on one of his own new slow Bluesy songs, ‘Self Inflicted Wounds’, from his forthcoming September studio album, for Joe at last to find solace in his performance. Finally you could see the Blues wash away any anxiety and concern in him as he poured himself, along with the saxophonist and the rest of his entourage, into the entrancing, haunting guitar riffs and soulful structure of this song. From here on, touched by this and at one with their favoured Blues performer, the audience was led towards accepting the unrestricted freedom of their musical pleasure by embracing the concert with a more passionate approach.
His set travelled through previously performed, successful recordings and each artist in the band, after a personal and familiar introduction by Bonamassa himself, relished audience focus and applause. An initially shy young Blues guitarist, Kirk Fletcher, was invited onto stage and challenged in a guitar ‘gunfire stand-off’ with Bonamassa, which raged between the two of them in a display of matched musical fury and attack that built to a thunderous crescendo. “Too loud, too many notes!” joked Bonamassa. ‘Slow Train’ was an excellent follow-up to this with all instruments beating a tempo that conjured visions of the approaching freight train chugging along lonely dusty tracks with calming light play on the backdrop of the stage and rhythm leading into an incredible guitar finish. A bit of a tantalising twisting tune followed and tried to encourage everyone to their feet, but it took Joe’s direct command to make this so.
Although it was difficult to distinguish lyrics at the start of the concert, the clarity and understanding of the tracks improved as the performance went on, Joe’s strength seemed only to increase with him giving a crystal clear still powerful delivery by the final numbers completing a gruelling one and three quarter hour set. The crowd, of course not including those rude enough to walk out just before the end of his performance, were rewarded with ‘Sloe Gin’ which is always a favourite and Joe spoke with familiarity and at length saying how he had so enjoyed playing in such a grand setting and to such a receptive crowd.
The seven-piece band that performed excellent support for Bonamassa are Reese Wynans on keyboards, Anton Fig on drums, Michael Rhoades on bass, Lee Thornburg on trumpet and Paulie Cerra on sax with two joyful backing singers belting out their strong accompaniment throughout constantly riding the rhythm in their steps, percussion instruments and attitudes.
Di Foxy (photo courtesy of Laurence Harvey).