And so to Joe Bonamassa in Brighton, on the Mascot magical mystery tour bus, with a stick of rock in my hand, blues in my veins, refreshments close to hand and ear plugs at the ready.
The mystery is simply wondering which route the deluxe bus will take from North London to the South coast, the possible volume of traffic and what set list JB will choose for tonight?
While a 2015 Brighton jolly doesn’t come close to the famed Brinsley Schwarz hype – when a New York bound plane of journo’s were both delayed and got wasted along the way – this Brighton trip did have its characters on board.
Label reps Shantih Lata, Lee Puddefoot and Steve Marsh joined snapper Mark Hughes, broadcaster/musician Big Boy Bloater, PR guru Peter Noble and a bus full other familiar rock & roll personnel, to ensure the banter and laughs will make us forget about the unthinkable possibility of getting to the show too late.
However, once south of Gatwick and the M25 it’s plain sailing, as Bonamassa new ‘Live At Radio City Music Hall’ album gives way to Walter Trout’s ‘Battle Scars’ and we approach the seaside buoyed by the booming tone of Leslie West’s ‘Soundcheck’.
We’re all nicely set up then, to hit the venue bar and bump into more familiar faces, notably BBC producer Paul Long and his son Matthew Long (from Catfish), before we do our duty and immerse ourselves in the unforgiving air craft hanger that is the Brighton Centre.
A taped announcement apologizes for the lack of a famous boy band, before the lights come up and Joe leans into the opening big band swing of ‘See See Baby’ with great purpose, as Lee Thornburg’s trumpet takes the first solo.
Tonight’s band is a six piece ensemble with 2 horns and a rhythm section comprising drummer Anton Fig and bassist Michael Rhodes, who give the set a welcome mellifluous feel. There’s still plenty of drive and energy you understand, but there’s less showboating from behind the kit, and in truth the additional percussion player is not missed. More relevantly Joe actually engages bass player Rhodes on several occasions to bring a fresh dynamic and focus to the material.
Tonight maybe just another arena sized tour date, but Joe is working his socks off to overcome a cold, as well as a crowd that obviously prefers to listen rather than blindly yell back encouragement at their hero.
It makes for a good environment to appreciate both the band’s interplay and a set list ignited by Joe’s array of tones and dynamic subtlety.
He reaches early levels of intensity on ‘Angel of Mercy’, references Hendrix on ‘Hey Baby’ and slips into the cool groove of ‘Happier Times’. The latter is one of the highlights of the night, on which Joe’s exemplary emotive vocal is underpinned by his restrained rhythm section, as he builds his solo towards a defining crescendo with a piercing tone.
As if buoyed by the crowd response, he slips into the slide-led and taut funk of ‘Trouble Town’. He mirrors bassist Michael Rhodes choreographed steps and further draws on his band, as Reese Wynans piano leads us into a cover of ‘Going Down’, which is more of a celebration of a tour band stretching out rather than a vital song in the set list.
Someone nearby asks if Joe’s wearing epaulettes on his jacket, but it actually turns out to be the sweat marks of a guitarist pushing himself to the limit.
He rises again though on the booming shuffle of ‘I Gave Up Everything, ‘Cept The Blues’ on which the rhythm section shines, the horns pump and Joe soars with a tremulous tone, before engaging the crowd in a mock call and response finish.
The show stopping urgency of ‘Love Ain’t A Love Song’ is equally good. Tonight it’s stretched into different realms by a break-down on which Joe dexterously fuses intricate fretboard work with seagull sounding volume swells over snappy percussion, before he rocks out with bassist Rhodes.
‘Sloe Gin’ gives him an anthemic finish, completed by a reshaped ‘Ballad of Henry’, on which Joe reconstructs the song over Fig’s intricate percussive pattern before some big chords brings the crowd to its feet.
Reese Wynans leads the band into a well earned encore of ‘All Aboard’, which is full of pumping horns and a final shred from Joe.
There’s just enough time to share some post gig bonhomie and hop back on the Mascot bus to London, all the mysteries having been solved, except for how JB manages to adhere to such a punishing tour regime.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Mark Hughes (MHP Studios)
Tour bus photo by Steve Marsh
Gig review (Nottingham, 25 October 2015)
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