It was a sold-out Albert Hall, of course it was? Joe Bonamassa was back in town, this was the last night of his three day residence here, and the minute Joe’s entrance theme On Her Majesty’s Secret Service came through the new 2 million pound sound system the goose bumps started: the word legend is used all too often these days but this man has earned that title in spades.
Hitting the stage in his dapper suit and dark shades to a tremendous applause, this was going to be a night of legends with his seven piece band: starting with Tower of Power man on trumpet Lee Thornburg , Paulie Cerra on Saxophone, Michael Rhodes Bass, former Double Trouble and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Keyboard maestro Reese Wynans, drummer Anton Fig, and the backing vocals of Mahalia Barnes and Jade Macrae. With such an array of talent on stage, everyone knew they were in for something special.
He was going to be showcasing his new album Redemption tonight as well as some of his classics. Opening with Muddy Waters 1959 hit ‘Tiger In Your Tank’ the audience started cheering straight away wasting no time, and into the first of his new songs ‘King Bee Shakedown’: one of my favourites and definitely one with the crowd, who were already up on their feet dancing and we were treated to the experience of the blazing horn section and fantastic backing vocals for the first time, and also a great piece of slide work from Joe himself.
Only two songs in and Joe was on fire: some powerful drumming from Anton introduces ‘Evil Mama’. No wonder this man is nicknamed Buddy Rich JR, a great riff driven number with once again the girls providing great vocal backing.
Into blues territory next with the slower ‘Just Cause You Can’ where the horn section combined with Reese’s incredible Hammond organ solo amazed the audience with their incredible musicianship.
‘Self-Inflicted Wounds’ took you into early Pink Floyd psychedelia: a really powerful song with a haunting sound and really showed the power of Joe’s voice, and the guitar solo was one of the highlights of the night. Joe doesn’t just play the guitar he lets it talk to the audience, sending messages of incredible melodies, riffs, and just a wonderful sound throughout the hall.
Rock and roll next with ‘This Train’, with a great blues groove running throughout from Michael followed by ‘Blues of Desperation’ creating an Indian sitar sound which showed his versatility.
Time for the girls to let us hear their wonderful voices in all their glory: beautiful backing vocals on ‘How Deep This River Runs’, which made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
The most emotional part of the night is when Reese’s keyboard intro fills the hall and everyone’s favourite cover ‘Sloe Gin’ begins. Originally sung by Tim Curry from Rocky Horror, Joe has made this song entirely his own and many people thought he wrote it. This was indeed the highlight of the night and the beautiful vocal and guitar virtuosity we witnessed tonight showed why Joe is called one of the greatest performers and guitarists in the world. You could have heard a pin drop throughout the performance until the end, when the crowd roared and applauded with appreciation.
Joe next has a one on one with the audience, saying how humbled he is that so many people have come tonight and still continue to follow him, and remembering his first performance at the Albert Hall ten years ago where he shared the stage with Paul Jones and Eric Clapton, and then welcomes on another legend Bernie Marsden for a blistering cover of Albert King’s ‘I Get Evil’.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDe-dI3c5d0&w=560&h=315]
Continuing the covers with two Led Zeppelin songs ‘Tea for One’ and ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ with a guitar solo that left the audience open mouthed.
Closing the two and a quarter hour long set with ‘Little Girl’ and ‘Last Kiss’ you knew by the crowds cheering and nonstop hand clapping and yells of MORE! It wasn’t the last we were going to see of him and the band tonight.
Sure enough he returns to the stage with just an acoustic and plays a mind-blowing solo of ‘Woke Up Dreaming’, his fingers racing along the fret-board.
Then a wonderful version of Cream’s ‘SWLABR’ bringing the show to an end with ‘Mountain Time’; both songs having an Albert Hall history.
I have seen Joe once before at a small festival and a smaller stage, but tonight this man proved he was not only made for a huge stage he owned it. I saw probably one of the best events and performances I have ever seen, not only from Joe but from everyone of the excellent musicians and performers with him.
Joe is not only a man who loves playing guitar: he loves playing it in front of an audience, and the audience love seeing him do it.
Review by Dave Martin for Metal Planet Music.
Photography by Laurence Harvey