Words by: Erik De’Viking
Before his landmark gig at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009, Joe Bonamassa was known to us blues aficionados but he hadn’t reached global stardom. On that fateful night, Joe played with his idol Eric Clapton at the hallowed venue fulfilling a life-long dream. The platinum-selling Live From The Royal Albert Hall DVD set a precedent, and the rest, is as they say history.
While the 4th of May is technically the 10th anniversary of that spectacular concert, as Joe reminded the audience, he gave a heartfelt speech about what it all meant to him. Stating that, “my life changed since that first gig. We have toured the globe, and I’ve played here so many times now that people think I’m British. They come up to me surprised by my accent and realise they were wrong.” This elicited a lot of laughter and cheers from the audience, as he continued, “Thank you all, it has been an honour and a privilege.”
Adding a final anecdote, Joe mentioned, “I try to impress my friends. I have like six friends. Just six! And very very very rarely do I have guests. When I do, I serve my coffee in Royal Albert Hall mugs. After they’ve been sitting there for a few looking at the mugs, they ask, “so where did you get the cool mugs?” and without hesitation I say, “why the Royal Albert Hall of course!” And on he went giving every ounce of himself to the sold-out crowd as he worked through a number of tracks off his latest album Redemption as well as classic tracks and covers.
As Joe took us through a masterclass in the blues, the audience sat enraptured by the spectacle that he was creating through his mastery of the guitar. Opening with ‘Tiger In Your Tank’, the band played on through ‘King Bee’, ‘Evil Mama’, ‘Just Cause You Can’, and ‘Self Inflicted Wounds’. Reese Wynans’ stunning piano intro to ‘This Train’ set an altogether different mood before the band chimed in and went full tilt, with Anton Fig channelling a raging locomotive with his punchy drum lines and fills.
While the night wound on, we had ‘Blues of Desperation’, ‘No Good Place For The Lonely’, and finally one of the stand-out moments of the night, ‘Sloe Gin’. The stunning arrangement of one of his most iconic songs took on a gospel infused feeling. Opening with simple keys and Joe’s isolated vocal, the band slowly joined in as if a spirit was rising within them. This soulful transformation of the song transcended the original, as Joe made his guitar cry like a soul departing this world, leaving all their pain and sorrow behind.
Following on from ‘Sloe Gin’, we had ‘Well Well’, and ‘Boogie Woogie Woman’, which featured guest guitarist Kurt Fletcher. Giving the band and Kurt a chance to take featured solos, the audience was up on their feet, dancing in the aisles by the time they finished. Now quickly approaching the second hour of the show, it was clear that it was time to get hard and heavy. With a little more than a bit of Led Zeppelin influence on the arrangements, we had a medley of ‘Tea For One / I Can’t Quite You Babe’, which was followed by ‘How Many More Times’. Finishing off the main set with an extended solo, the crowd stood enraptured as he said goodnight and the band left the stage.
We didn’t have long to wait before Joe was back on stage by himself with just an acoustic guitar. Taking centre stage, with just a single spotlight, Joe gave us ‘Woke Up Dreaming’ and masterful acoustic solo before the band returned to close out the night with a brilliant rendition of ‘Mountain Time’. After thanking the crowd and taking a number bows, Joe and the band left the stage. It was clear throughout the night that everyone was in great spirits and having a lot of fun. The backing singers (Mahalia Barnes & Jade MacRae) were stunning, the brass section (Lee Thornburg & Paulie Cerra) was strutting and grooving to the music, the keys were masterfully handled by Reese Wynans, Anton Fig was totally on point with the drums, and Michael Rhodes on bass really brought everything together and acted as the glue throughout the night. It is fair to say that this was two-hours and fifteen minutes of the blues and blues rock at its best. Definitely one ticked off the bucket list for sure. If you ever have the chance to see Joe Bonamassa live, do not pass it up.
While you’re here, why not check out our review of Joe’s latest album, Redemption.
Written by: Erik De’Viking
My Global Mind – UK Editor
Erik De’Viking is a London based freelance music journalist. His musical interests include music in all its forms, and he is constantly on the lookout for new bands and genres to discover and later preach about to the masses.