I remember seeing Joe Bonamassa back in 2006 at the ‘Pacific Road’, a small venue in Birkenhead, England, and I recall thinking at the time, and I know it’s a cliche, but ‘greatness beckons here’.
He absolutely tore the place apart and served notice that the blues is not only still relevant in the 21st century, but, more to the point, still commands a fervent fanbase.
Fast forward ten years and countless sell-out stadium tours later, Joe was back playing a small venue as a ‘thank you’ to that loyal fanbase.
That the small venue in question was none other than the famous ‘Cavern’ club in Liverpool added immeasurably to the importance of the occasion as Joe got his brick to be inducted onto the famous ‘Wall Of Fame’ alongside the likes of John Lee Hooker, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles (of course) and (of particular significance tonight) The Yardbirds.
For tonight, in front of a (very) sweaty audience of 350 invited fans, Joe was previewing his forthcoming tour of the UK and Europe playing the music of the ‘British Blues Boom’ of the early 1960’s, in particular the major guitar players of the time, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.
This was the music that the young Bonamassa cut his teeth on, the music he learned to play along to and the music that created the blues guitar genius that gave tonight’s lively and appreciative crowd the opportunity to see, close up, just how good he is.
And he didn’t disappoint.
Backed up by his fabulous band – the pulsating rhythm section of Anton Fig (drums) and Mike Rhodes (bass), the complementary guitar work of (Joe’s next door neighbour(!)) Russ Irwin and the outstanding Hammond and keyboard work of ex Stevie Ray Vaughan band keysman Reese Wynans, Joe delivered a masterclass in blues/rock guitar that, at times, defied belief.
Opening up with a combo of Jeff Beck’s ‘Beck’s Bolero’/‘Rice Pudding’, the whole set was balanced with light and shade, quiet and (very) loud – but everywhere shot through with guitar work of the very highest calibre.
Well known numbers such as ‘Boogie With Stu’, ‘Motherless Children’, ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’, ‘How Many More Times’ and ‘SWLABR’ rubbed shoulders with lesser known (but equally impressive) tracks such as ‘Mainline Florida’, ‘Little Girl’ and ‘Pretending’ and the quality never flagged for a second.
My own, and I suspect most of the crowd’s, high point was the ten minute slow blues of John Mayall’s ‘Double Crossing Time’ where Wynan’s keyboard intro and Joe’s imperious vocals led into a double guitar solo the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed. I looked around the crowd at the time to see open jaws and smiling faces in equal number – just trying to take in what they were hearing.
Finishing with a few tracks from his new ‘Blues Of Desperation’ album and encoring with his own classic ‘Sloe Gin’ the evening was nicely topped off with The Fab’s ‘Taxman’ to great audience approval.
The whole shebang was an absolute privilege to witness if I’m honest – a top, top band fronted by probably the finest blues guitarist of his generation, on blistering form, having great fun and delivering a sensational set that will live long – not just in my memory, but in those of all who were lucky enough to be there.
Review by Alan Jones
Photos by Christie Goodwin except where stated
Joe Bonamassa UK Dates (July 2016)
SATURDAY 2 JULY – HOGTON TOWER, LANCASHIRE
SUNDAY 3 JULY – GLASGOW, CLYDE AUDITORIUM (SOLD OUT)
TUESDAY 5 JULY – BRISTOL, COLSTON HALL (SOLD OUT)
THURSDAY 7 JULY – LONDON GREENWICH MUSIC TIME FESTIVAL
FRIDAY 8 JULY – NEWARK CASTLE, RIVERSIDE PARK
Gig review (Glasgow, 3 July)
Album review (Blues Of Desperation)
CD/DVD review (British Blues Explosion Live)
Photo: Steve Goudie
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