To say I’m overexcited to be seeing Joe Bonamassa in the flesh would be something of an understatement, so the fact that there’s no support act is a blessing in disguise. Now celebrating its 150th anniversary it seems the beautiful environs of The Royal Albert Hall is the perfect frame for Joe’s performance (he’s played here 11 times) and tonight he appears to the refrain of ‘Evil Mama’. Taken from his 2018 album Redemption, ‘Evil Mama’ is the perfect set opener and, awash with keys, finds Joe stalking the stage like a nocturnal cat and with snow white tan, sunglasses and razor sharp suit he’s the very epitome of cool.
Despite being only 44 years old Joe Bonamassa cuts the figure of an old bluesman and that’s partly because he started his career so young (his first gig was supporting BB King aged 12) but it’s also due to his unique guitar tone. Just the first few notes of ‘Dust Bowl’ and you know that could only be Joe Bonamassa bending the strings. The title track from his 2011 album, ‘Dust Bowl’ is a muscular number and the assembled band apply the requisite punch. A four-piece band provide a solid foundation over which Joe juxtaposes heavy riffs and explosive solos, and the apparent ease with which he handles both is enough to make every aspiring guitarist throw down their instrument in exasperation.
Tonight’s set is a crowd-pleasing, career-spanning set that takes in all points of Joe’s discography from ‘Love Ain’t A Love Song (Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks, 2015) to ‘Sloe Gin’ (Sloe Gin, 2007). In between we get stompers such as ‘The Heart That Never Waits’ and despite the years and stylistic shifts that separate these songs they make for easy bedfellows and the result is a set that ebbs and flows perfectly. Famed for his extensive collection of guitars, Joe puts them to good use throughout the gig, regularly swapping them between songs, which gives each song its own flavour.
In a strange piece of synchronicity, the American blues were appropriated by a host of British artists in the 1960’s and it’s from these players that Joe drew inspiration and took the blues back to the States. So, by largely avoiding the usual influences Joe developed a sound that was his own and he repaid a few roots on the 2020 release Royal Tea. Written in conjunction with Bernie Marsden (Whitesnake) ‘I Didn’t Think She Would Do It’ from that album finds Joe’s foot heavy on the wah-wah pedal while keyboardist Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughan) strikes the keys with force and the two combined makes for an intoxicating brew. Another serving from that album in the shape of ‘Lonely Boy’ creates a fine closer and the audience don’t require much goading to get up and groove.
Of course, Joe returns for two well-earned encores, the first of which finds him playing solo with an acoustic guitar and producing all sorts of fretwork gymnastics on ‘Woke Up Dreaming’ and, despite the 5,000 people present, Joe magically turns The Royal Albert Hall into an intimate club gig. The electrified ‘Mountain Time’ is full of soaring guitar lines, and, over the course of 10 minutes, it takes on new form until it becomes something huge and monolithic. Rewarded with rapturous applause it makes a fitting finale and ensures no one leaves disappointed.
My first-time seeing Joe Bonamassa live but it certainly won’t be my last.
• Reviewed by Peter Dennis.
• Pictures by Laurence Harvey.
1. Evil Mama
2. Dust Dowl
3. Love Ain’t A Love Song
4. Midnight Blues
5. The Heart That Never Waits
6. I Didn’t Think She Would Do It
7. Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should
8. Sloe Gin
9. Conversation With Alice
10. Lonely Boy
11. Woke Up Dreaming
12. Mountain Time