Review by Andrew Manning
Following a recent brief sojourn with Black Country Communion and Beth Hart one of the hardest working musicians in the business is back out on the road continuing to build his legendary status. Joe Bonamassa is one guy who deserves all the success that he gets because he has done it the hard way. From small bars and clubs he has practically worked non-stop to develop his brand which for a few years now has allowed him to progress to arena size venues across the country.
Without a support act it was straight down to business from the opening salvo of ‘King Bee Shakedown’ through an evening of electric blues rock for the next two hours. Centre stage with his trademark shades, slicked back hair, crisp white shirt and made to measure suit the star of the show is certainly the sharp dressed man as he kicks off the performance with an unreleased track. Now you have to be a very confident individual to introduce an audience to new music and tonight the confidence must have been sky high as the show opens with not one but four new numbers which are earmarked for a new album release in September. It is always interesting to gauge the crowd reaction at the end of each track and it was clear that for many this was an unexpected start for the evening. There is no doubt from what we heard that the forthcoming album will be another dose of prime Bonamassa as showcased by these offerings which embodied all the best aspects of his guitar playing. Towards the end of the show he humorously reflected back to the start of the proceedings by jokingly referring to a “guy at the back of the arena telling his wife…..this ain’t no John Henry…..I’m going to get myself a hotdog!”
Once back on familiar territory with ‘I Get Evil’, ‘No Good Place For The Lonely’ and ‘How Deep This Rivers Runs’ the show really started to take off as a classic collection of numbers was delivered. The trumpet section on the former track delivered by Lee Thornburg showed why he is so highly rated having previously been a member of Supertramp and amongst others toured with Tom Petty and Ray Charles. With the sublime saxophone playing of Paulie Cerra added there was a real feel of the iconic bluesmen, such as BB King and Albert King, about the evening with the inclusion of a brass section and wonderful backing vocals particularly as they moved in time to the music. This is as authentic as it gets.
‘Breaking Up Somebody’s Home’ brought to the stage a surprise guest for the evening with the introduction of Bernie Marsden. We were treated to some guitar interplaying as the two maestros traded some nice licks with Marsden given space to show that he is also a master of the blues. Australian backing vocalists Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins powerfully added harmonies throughout and were really allowed to shine particularly on ‘Slow Train’. Their presence provided a polished touch to the overall sound and the solid groove being laid down by long term rhythm section members Anton Fig (drums) and Michael Rhodes (bass).
Bonamassa is the master of the riff and produced a thrilling sound during each track as he threw the appropriate shapes demonstrating his true talent. He ebbed between light and shade with some real hard striking of the strings at times. His playing is full of passion and emotion which was stunningly shown on the beautiful ‘Driving Towards The Daylight’. Tonight was an evening where he showcased his talents within the confines of each song without resorting to long indulgent solos.
Prior to the new studio album it has been announced that he will release a new live album titled ‘British Blues Explosion Live’, which was recorded at The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London, in 2016. This will include cover versions of two Led Zeppelin tracks aired tonight. These were not replicas but numbers stripped back and given the Bonamassa touch. In particular blues legend Reese Wynams (keyboards) formerly of the Stevie Ray Vaughan Double Trouble band played some delightful honky-tonk keyboards on ‘Boogie With Stu’. Then set closer ‘How Many More Times’ provided an electrifying finish showing why he is located at the top of the current blues rock world. The iconic Leon Russell track ‘Hummingbird’ was dusted down for the encore with a final virtuoso performance from the guy who never seems to stop.
Key ingredients of any Bonamassa show are the musicians that accompany him on stage. For this tour he has pulled out all the stops and it would be difficult to collectively find a better group of individuals to support him. He introduced them as “the greatest in the world” and they certainly lived up to these lofty heights. However the true star of the show was Smokin’ Joe!! The man’s versatility and unique style just demands you are mesmerized from the very first moment.
King Bee Shakedown
Just Cause You Can
Self Inflicted Wounds
I Get Evil (Albert King cover)
No Good Place For The Lonely
How Deep This River Runs
Breaking Up Somebody’s Home (Albert King cover)
Driving Towards The Daylight
Boogie With Stu (Led Zeppelin cover)
How Many More Times (Led Zeppelin cover)
Hummingbird (Leon Russell cover)