He was in his thirties when he played for the first time at the Royal Albert Hall.
That was in 2009. An unrepeatable experience. A once in a lifetime adventure.
The virtuoso guitarist never dared believe he’d be back in the sanctified place.
However, here he was. In London. It was April 2017. And BONAMASSA was on a repeat visit…
In fact last night’s wonderfully charged show at the world famous buttercream & layer-cake concert hall was perhaps even more intoxicating than his debut. More vital too. Because Joe has gained his seniority. He earned his authority. He has an important body of work behind him. Yes, gosh darnit he’s a bona fide rock ‘n’ roll icon now!
Joe has done a lot more than merely pass-muster over the intervening years. He became a major statesman of the blues-rock tradition… as well continuing to be the alpha-geek guitar-cracker we’ve always known and loved.
Stepping onto the same boards as BB King, Jimi Hendrix, and the pioneers of the “British Blues Explosion” Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and of course his personal idol Eric Clapton, was always gonna be very special for the prodigy who began his professional career at the age of twelve.
It was always going to be Bonamassa’s “big thing”. But who ever thought that London’s Royal Albert Hall would become a regular outing for the New York state wunderkind? Looking back over 8 years, we might want to view his Albert Hall concerts as a show sequence — a series — rather than the stand-alone solitaires we once thought they were.
This year’s show was really very special. We went along to see the brilliant blue-suited top-dog expand his myth & magic — and show-off that perpetual youth — as he entertained us with one of his most exciting and dauntless shows to date… comprising, largely, of a dazzling selection of songs from his 2016 album “Blues of Desperation.”
“I got seven of the greatest musicians in the world,” he told a worshipping crowd. The line-up included ‘Tower of Power‘ trumpeter Lee Thornburg, singer-songwriter & saxophonist Paulie Cerra, Captain Beyond ‘Double Trouble’ keyboards player Reese Wynans, Nashville bassist Michael Rhodes, the ‘Late Show‘ drummer Anton Fig [“I stole him from Jay Leno eight years ago,”] and the Australian backing singers Jade Macrae with “legendary daughter of a legend” Mahalia Barnes.
With a wave of euphonious piano — from Wynans of the silver beard — the spectacle began.
Wham! The first power-chord of the evening slammed across the circles of seats. “Go on Joe,” someone shouted from behind. Then the talented team prepared to take us on “This Train” journeying down the Mississippi River to the Delta and beyond (via Chicago, Nashville, Memphis and the Big Apple, naturally.) This number had urgently squeeze-pinched riffs, compelling rhythms and distinctive synth sounds.
The rocky “Mainline Florida” — with creamy organ layers and subtle brass bursts from the horn-section — was a sophisticated metropolitan motivator with rakish drums and perfect backing vox. Here the guitar sounded like a peace-officer’s prowler hitting the road on a crazy summer night.
The first guitar change came at the third song: “Mountain Climbing” which was a number punctuated by noble stabs of shooting honesty.
Joe’s vocal-work was, to be fair, workaday and unremarkable… indeed a little colourless. But many have complained that the giant Kensington lobby swallows a voice. But that was only true until the stunning “No Good Place For The Lonely” — this was a song with grand dimensions that deserved a soul-filled voice. And Bonamassa delivered it too. His singing became expressive and dulcet.
This song was as zippy and fraught as a youth crossing seven lanes of traffic on Alan Street and 1st. It was an incredible outing long before we reached the glorious electroplated guitar strands in the denouement. This was one of the many truly exceptional moments and brought the first standing ovation. Bonamassa proved he is still the sheriff of shrill.
Not a drop of sweat shone on his forehead till song six. Is he bionic? Joe rubbed away the glow for “How Deep This River Runs” that had dark zig-zagging bass notes from the bald & lanky Rhodes (who resembles Richard O’Brien, by the way) together with sizzling sax and trumpet.
And the Gibson Flying V came out for King’s “Angel of Mercy.” This number was an awesome blues caper. With spectacular hot guitar work and some melancholic rhythms along with super-fast drums from Fig.
The show contained everything. From prog-rock symphony and AOR to good ole’ honky-tonk shake & roll with songs like “Boogie with Stu” — where Wynans on keys proved his mettle twice-over.
Special mention should go to the lighting engineers too — who created fountains of light that transformed the Italianate concert-hall from a cool North African riad with glistening swirls, to a futuristic starship firing through a starry cosmos.
On stage Bonamassa announced that he he will back in Kensington Gore in 2019.
And so the story continues …
Words: @neilmach 2017 ©
Main Image: Photo Credit: Marty Moffatt taken at Royal Albert Hall on 20 April 2017
On January 21-22nd, 2016 the Grammy nominated guitarist performed two unique all-acoustic shows at the iconic Carnegie Hall in New York City. Both performances were filmed and made into “Joe Bonamassa Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening”, which will be released on CD, DVD, Blu-ray and Vinyl on Friday 23rd June 2017.