Provogue [Release date 18.05.18]
‘British Blues Explosion Live’ is the latest conceptual vehicle for the prodigiously talented Joe Bonamassa and his constant search for a meaningful context with which to keep the blues alive.
Playing to a seated outdoor crowd at The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, he’s probably playing to the very people who bought the original material and helped cross over blues into hard rock in the late 60′s.
Where The Yardbirds exported the British Blues Invasion in the mid-sixties, little over 50 years later, Bonamassa is reversing the trend by recycling past glories, while adding his own colours in a reminder of how we came to this point musically.
Bonamassa’s high standing in the rock/blues community is a result of the cleverly interweaving of his self penned material with that of salient British blues rockers.
His first half a dozen studio albums significantly drew on material by Rory Gallagher, Free, Ian Anderson, Beck and Stewart, Steve Winwood, Plant and Page, Alvin Lee and even John Martyn, so while his own song writing has grown significantly he’s imperceptibly dragged the old Blues Invasion crowd with him.
This brings us to the ‘British Blues Explosion Live’, a double CD/DVD pack which finds Bonamassa indulging himself in personal favourites from as far back as 1966 with John Mayall’s Blues Breakers’ ‘Little Girl’, and as recently as Eric Clapton’s 1989 ‘Pretending’, on which he adds an eloquently layered solo.
Clapton would seem to be closest to his heart, but he sets out his stall with the fiery Jimmy Page penned ‘Beck’s Bolero’, as he successfully emulates the latter’s fiery intensity.
‘Mainline Florida’, mirrors Clapton’s gradual conversion to the mainstream and the undoubted southern flavour is aided by the significant bv’s of Russ Irwin.
Beck’s ‘Let Me Love You Baby’ pushes Joe’s vocal to the limit. He’s smart enough not to attempt to emulate Rod Stewart’s vocal grit on ‘Plynth (Water Down the Drain)’, but settles for exploring one of rock’s greatest riffs which is well suited to his ability.
He’s a precise player who is happiest when exploring concise notes and different tonal colours, rather than the strutting figure who tries manfully to reign in Zeppelin on ‘How Many More Times.’
He immerses himself in Beck’s ‘Spanish Boots’, and though the vocal is a bit thin he’s got the safety net of Anton Fig’s blustery support. He then reaches back to 1966 for Bluesbreaker Clapton’s ‘Double Crossing Time’ which provides the most intense performance of the first set and reminds us that this really is the stuff that ignited a generation.
He eschews slide on Clapton’s ‘Motherless Children’ and settles for a cleaner tone as he builds up a head of steam alongside Reese Wynans’ organ. Then there’s a humorous contextual intro to Cream’s ‘SWLABR’, as the camera cleverly shifts from a wide shot to a close up of Bonamassa building up the intensity of the younger Clapton’s licks.
The crowd is too far away to make a meaningful connection with the performer, but he cleverly draws them in with the subtle dynamics on Zeppelin’s ‘Tea For One.’
Not too many folks could have anticipated the clever segueing of his own ‘Black Winter’ (a rehash of The Yardbirds ‘White Summer’), and ‘Django’. The latter instrumental personifies his intricate instrumental work and it provides the quiet before the storm.
Zeppelin’s ‘How Many More Times’ is almost a step too far, as Joe is caught between his love of bone crunching riffs and the vocal gravitas needed to deliver both the original song and a few lines from ‘The Hunter’.
Happily his ballistic finish does enough to spark the communal flashback that his audience subconsciously came here for. ‘British Blues Explosion Live’ offers few surprises, but Bonamassa’s focussed intensity and peerless technique gives him the right to update the genre.
The bonus material includes some footage of a tired looking JB in a Cavern T-shirt playing a bluesy version of George Harrison’s ‘Taxman’, which is ironically filmed in black and white.
There’s also an ad-hoc ‘Brick in the wall’ ceremony outside The Cavern in Liverpool, which offers us a snapshot of the capped Bonamassa far removed from his usual working clothes of suit and shades. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
Gig review (The Cavern, June 2016)
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