Gig review: JOE BONAMASSA – Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, 19 March 2015

JOE BONAMASSA – Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, 19 March 2015

With a bombastic orchestrated intro, his own illuminated plinth and an opening blitzkrieg of lights, Joe Bonamassa is almost in danger of being swamped by a combination of his own branding and the weight of expectation.

Tonight is all about successfully balancing a set list that reflects his recent recorded output and the demands of bringing a rock blues show to a sizeable theatre.

To that end he’s surrounds himself with a tightly drilled 8-piece band who bring a new direction to familiar material and who at their best stretch out majestically.

JOE BONAMASSA – Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, 19 March 2015

This is exemplified deep into the set, by the percussive ‘Love Ain’t A Love Song’, which suddenly drops down to a funky percolating groove over which Joe adds an exemplary solo full of contrasting tension and restraint, subtle volume swells, stabbed notes and ripping intensity. It’s also the moment when he and his band lock in seamlessly in perfect harmony, as he leans into a conversational solo to bring the song to its climax.

From the riff driven intensity of the opening ‘Oh Beautiful’ to the closing anthemic ‘Ballad of John Henry’, he covers  the waterfront with a set full of fiery playing, tempered by moments of intricate interplay that never stray too far from the blues.

JOE BONAMASSA – Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, 19 March 2015

‘Never Give All Your Heart’ is a brooding ballad with a trademark vocal, a weird chord change and an enveloping hook, bolstered by a booming horn section. He steps thing up on Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Hidden Charms’ complete with snappy horn accents and digs deep for gravitas on his own derivative slow blues ‘So, What Would I Do’, as his mid-number solo brings the front row to their feet.

There’s plenty from ‘Different Shades of Blue’ including the booming shuffle ‘Living On The Moon’ and the big band swagger of the power shuffle  ‘I Gave Up Everything For You ‘Cept the Blues’.

The mix of self-penned material and blues covers is glued together by his imperious playing which brings tonal variety and light and shade.

An extended slide intro to the funky ‘Trouble Town’ draws appreciation from the crowd and he adds a defining solo on ‘Double Trouble’, full of control, precision,  poise and topped by an extended sustained note.

JOE BONAMASSA – Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, 19 March 2015

If there’s downside to tonight’s show it’s simply that for all the great playing, pristine arrangements, and jammed out spark, it’s light on memorable songs. The routine ‘Don’t Burn Down That Bridge’ for example, is rescued by Joe’s tremulous solo. That said, it’s counter weighted by one of the highlights of the night, an inspired version of ‘Look Over Yonders Wall’.

It starts off as a brusque funky outing and is magically transformed into the coolest of jazz grooves by Reese Wynans’ nuanced piano lines and a muted trumpet before Joe brings the band back into the original funky groove.

JOE BONAMASSA – Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, 19 March 2015

He’s already clinched the deal long before a heavy version of ‘Sloe Gin’ and the bone crunching ‘Ballad Of John Henry’, but they are a reminders of the potency his best material.

Tonight Joe Bonamassa reconfirms his position as the outstanding guitarist, vocalist, band leader and blues musician of his generation, even if it does feel as if he’s shoehorning too much diverse material into his two hour set.

Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Paul Rodgers/GRTR!
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