Gig Review: MARCUS BONFANTI – Borderline, London, 21 June 2013

Marcus Bonfanti seems to have come of age with his powerful third album ‘Shake The Walls’. Clearly I was not the only one to notice. There was a really good crowd in at the Borderline. And when Bonfanti peered out from behind his masses of long sweaty dark hair and accompanying face furniture, he would have been pleased to see a goodly cross-section of all ages, styles and genders.

This was not a backwater for British Blues boomers, but a chance to anoint the emergence of another hot prospect in the vanguard of the new blues breed. Bonfanti takes his place alongside Mitch Laddie, the Laurence Jones Band and many others in properly mouth-watering roster of British talent.

Bonfanti kicked off the gig with a big grin and a raunchy version of the early Zep influenced ‘Stone Me Sober’. He never stopped smiling all night. A few tracks from his earlier portfolio were aired, but this set heavily plundered the new album. This was a powerhouse performance which almost made the album seem understated. And believe me, there is nothing understated about the album. Such was the strength of the show.

Two more heavyweights followed in the shape of ‘My Baby Don’t Dance’, a proper Stonesy groove driven thing and the excellent ‘Jezebel’. 
The latter featured an extended solo and much beefier sound than on the album, perhaps to make up here for the presence of a killer harp on the studio cut.

Confidence was high, as evidenced by his quip to the crowd, “Hey! It’s the longest night of the year tonight! A mate of mine says it always is when I’m playing!” And that extended to the interplay between this tight threesome.

On some of the instrumental sections, the connections were telepathic. Bonfanti’s style is to throw himself into a passage of lead guitar loops with the rhythm section building speed and intensity like a freewheeling freight train before it smashes into the buffers of a dramatic musical pause. And then we are off again with the main thread of the riff. Bonfanti’s use of space is exemplary.

Drummer Alex Reeves is a show in himself, pulsing out the time in a whole body movement of twists and contorts powered by a shoulder action fierce enough to grace the British Lions scrum down under. He belted such holy, er, rhythm out of his hi-hat during ‘Honest Boy’ that the stand almost catapulted off the riser.

Although ‘Shake The Walls’ is Bonfanti’s rockiest collection to date, this was not all million miles an hour fret work-outs. Far from it. ‘We All Do Bad Sometimes’ took things down a notch. “Oh yeah, we really do!” shouted the bloke next to me, on the verge of a confession. He knew every track inside out. Bonfanti already has a loyal following.

Bonfanti was at home with this crowd. “Thanks to everyone who has bought the album. You’ve put my daughter in new shoes” Big cheer and much mirth. “To those that haven’t, I’m not gonna play dares with you!”

Out came the sweet dobro guitar for ‘Alley Cat’ with some big vocal hooks to trade off thrilling, fat bottle-neck resonations. This, ‘We All Do Bad…’ and the Americana-tinged ‘Blind Alley’ really advertised the rich, drenching quality of Bonfanti’s growling baritone voice.

‘Cheap Whisky’ may have been the highlight in a set riddled with gems.  This track drips with southern blues for a modern day. “She drank my booze/And she smoked my stash/Sold my guitars/Took away all the cash”, bemoans Bonfanti before ripping into a full throated chorus and tight solo.

The encores had more of an acoustic feel, highlighting subtle and deft touches. ‘The Bittersweet’ was particularly tender and well judged. It will be good to see Bonfanti extend the sound, in time, to bring in the Hammond organ and harp that so wonderfully decorate the new album. But for tonight this stripped down sound was pretty special.

Earlier in the gig Bonfanti had shown himself to be genuinely touched by the reception. He described his delight at being promoted from the tiny airless support-slot dressing room of previous visits to the “big Daddy one” where he was tonight.

On this showing he had better get used to it. Roll on the future.

Dave Atkinson

Josh Taerk’s latest Lockdown session was streamed on Sunday 25 October. More about Josh:

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