From the opening bars of the “Welcome Back” theme song (John Sebastian) the blues-rock fans that had gathered in London’s most cherished iron-framed palace of sound must have assumed this would be a sweaty return to the alma mater for a treasured maestro.
What the audience did not know, as the lights dimmed, was that this would become an evening of reinstatement, magnanimity, advancement, and the coolest kick-ass shoes on the planet!
an extraordinary evening… molten, tense, and sweaty!Raw Ramp Music Magazine
As any enthusiast will tell you, guitarist JOE BONAMASSA was in his early thirties when he first played the Royal Albert Hall, treading the same boards as B B King, Hendrix, Beck, Page and, of course, his main infuence, Clapton, who invited him to the stage for a duet (2009). At the time he might have thought it was a once in a lifetime moment. The virtuoso guitarist never dared believe he’d return to the sanctified place on his own merits. And, over the last three years, none of us dared think we’d witness live music again… especially not in a grand setting like the Royal Albert Hall. Tonight would be a celebration of release!
The show kicked off with a song of culpability & wrongdoing “Evil Mama” (from Joe’s 2018 album “Redemption”) where the musician sent ventripotent, rib-muscled, waves of sound across the 150-year-old amphitheatre. This opening was scarlet red and blistering loud and came with the first of Reese Wynan’s tantalizing, overlaying, blazes of key-energy. Joe’s voice was deliciously hearty, as were the backing vocals, delivered by Australian soul singer Jade Macrae (aka Dune) with “English speaking” Dani De Andrea.
The proven crowd favourite “Dust Bowl” sprung forth like a torrid sun rising from regal dryness. The number provided a set of sage-brush rhythms, a sense of nurture, and a keen frizz of melody. When Joe stepped onto the boards, we couldn’t help noticing his shoes gleamed like a bobcat’s eyes caught in the headlights of a Rocket 88. We would find out more about those “new shoes” later!
The emotion of “Love Ain’t a Love Song” (from the “Different Shades of Blue” album, 2014) might have been slaked by frenzy (written as a nod to the woman who ‘didn’t get him…’) but in the Hall of Arts and Sciences it featured the sharpest, silkiest, and most graceful guitar solo we have heard in a long time. Extraordinary!
A Gary Moore cover is always welcome, and “Midnight Blues” was molten, tense, and sweaty on this unusually warm London night in early May. Like most electric-blues blessings, the heartfelt number came with pleading and earnest invocations. We thought that Joe’s execution was Robben Ford in character and delivery (no bad thing, of course) and, as an homage to the venerated Belfast virtuoso, it was a piece that scintillated with elegance.
“The Heart Never Waits” (from last year’s “Time Clocks” album) is a song about exhaustion and prolonging, so it became filled with sweaty vocals, sticky beats, and musty-rusty guitar tones. Though the number promptly became a large freight train of sound that presented authority and accumulated fortune as it sped along.
“I am so f** grateful to be back on this stage…”Joe yelled. And it is true, we despaired we’d never see him again. Joe also explained about the ‘new shoes’ — and let’s just say this: we will be dressing a lot smarter for our half chicken & coleslaw when we next visit Nando’s!
After the skittering “Sloe Gin” we were presented with the groovy hard rock number “A Conversation with Alice” which had the influence of Townshend & Daltrey written all over it. This was a number that wouldn’t have been out of place performed on Ronnie Scott’s stage, circa ’69. The guitar, of course, burned true… but it was also Joe’s voice that conveyed and exalted beyond our expectations. And special credit must go to master blues tech Josh Smith for those snazzy guitar fills and his brightly autographed solos, and Steve Mackey’s boom-boom-boom on bass and Greg Morrow’s uplifting beats on drums: both the backline musicians were new to the Albert Hall, but it is clear they will return!
The trad hammer song “The Ballad of John Henry” — wonderfully arranged by Bonamassa for his 2009 album of the same name — became the endpiece (before an acoustic encore) and an amazing, shared moment in an extraordinary evening.
Yes, blues is the redeemer. Blues is the healer. Blues is the liberation. And, at the Royal Albert Hall on 5th May, the blues came back!
@neilmach 06 May 2022 ©
Photos: Zoran Veselinovic