Remembering 2022 – Joe Bonamassa // Live Review // The Royal Albert Hall // London
Joe Bonamassa // Live Review // The Royal Albert Hall // London
What makes a true modern-day bluesman? 12 bar craftsmanship to rival that of its creators? A fitting tendency to swig tumbler whiskeys in-between songs? Or to lyricise of dusty roads and heartbreak beauties? Whatever it is, on a soothingly mild May Friday night at the Albert Hall, Joe Bonamassa answered that question through the sweat of his brow and the twang of his many, many guitars.
It had been 8 years, 7 live albums, 5 studio albums and 2 collaboration albums since I’d first seen Bonamassa at a show that introduced me to the suit-wearing, shade sporting man behind the music. Though young, naive and (dare I say) very, very foolish, I remember being struck down by just how good everything about the gig was. Simply put, I know but there was a genuine lack of words followed by an absolutely necessary need to find out everything I could about this guitarist and the music he made.
So, fast forward to 2022 and we see Bonamassa return for his 11th show at the Albert Hall. The venue itself is unquestionably magnificent; even an attendee of an abhorrent show would be put at ease by the gold red draped auditorium which has many a legend pass through its doors. Every seat was filled and the murmur of anticipation echoed in the vast open overhang.
7.30 pm on the dot and the lights go down. A rock musician who respects his audience’s time is thankfully no longer uncommon (though Bonamassa has never had a reputation for tardiness).
The band kick things off with ‘Evil Mama’. A sterling line-up of well-seasoned musicians help Bonamassa drive his well-oiled engine: Josh Smith on rhythm guitar, Reese Wynans on the keyboard, Steve Mackey on the bass, Greg Morrow on drums alongside Jade Macrae and
Dani De Andrea on vocals. Always a fan of that instant energy intro, Bonamassa serves ‘Evil Mama’ up with a slice of perfection on a cherry red ‘64 Gibson.
After the great reel-in, Bonamassa fills the hall with a smoky atmosphere with the cloud in question being a suspenseful solo introduction to ‘Dust Bowl’. Seducing us with his unassuming fingerwork; for those who have not seen a Bonamassa show, it is in these moments where you realise what you hear on record will never be what you hear live. No wonder there was no support, this guy is his very own opening act on each track performed.
From a Gretsch to a Fender, the great guitar showcase continues. Bonamassa vigorously heel taps his way through ‘Love Ain’t a Love Song’, giving room to key master Wynans to solo over an instrumental break. Wynans is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted legend in his own right and it was a pleasure to watch his mastery in action. Even after all these decades in the business he genuinely just seems to still love it, smiling the entire time whilst offering the occasional exciting pop up from his seat.
Onto the Gibson Les Paul and into the Gary Moore cover of ‘Midnight Blues’. Lucky enough to be positioned right up close on the left flank of the stage, I could almost see the beads of sweat as the frontman’s face shook with passion in a sort of facial vibrato. Bonamassa really does give every inch his all, holding that arduous end of song feedback as his loyal audience cheer in approval.
The only song to feature on the setlist from his latest album ‘Time Clocks’ is ‘The Heart That Never Waits’. This brief love affair with a slick telecaster graces us with yet again another display of skill only the most dedicated – verging on obsessive – of players can count themselves in on. Through breath-holding control of his instrument, Bonamassa mellows and rouses, guiding his audience through each passion soaked melody.
As we hit the middle ground of the set, as always I take a moment to scan the audience and take in the physicalities of the show. As many fellow blues-rockers prefer, the stage is a simple set-up without any aesthetic ‘pizzazz’, allowing the musicians to shine true and proper as they do tonight.
‘I Didn’t Think She Would Do It’ and ‘Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should’ follow up with an invigorating zest before we hear those first few notes of ‘Sloe Gin’ ring out to a few gasps of I love this one!! Morrow adds some nice drum interludes whilst the ever generous Bonamassa offers the lead vocal role again to both Macrae and De Andrea. But that is what makes a Bonamassa show what it is. It’s a solo show only in name and without a doubt an unrelenting demonstration of musician collaboration which carefully utilises each strength within the group.
In proof of this, we hear Bonamassa address his enthralled audience for the first time, giving thanks to each member that has joined him onstage. Smith then offers an unmatched solo for ‘A Conversation With Alice’ on his trusted Ibanez.
‘Lonely Boy’ oozes with rockabilly playfulness whilst ‘The Ballad of John Henry’ is as sturdy as is it exemplary. The energy levels just. Don’t. Drop. How Macrae and De Andrea have kept up that level of constant move choreography for 2 hours is beyond me. But they sure look happy to be there!
The encore is not wasted, with Bonamassa giving us his acoustic number ‘Woke Up Dreaming’ recorded and released in the early days back in 2003. The only segment where he is alone on the stage, it is a visually striking moment under the single spotlight. Hands quicker than the rate at which he raises our pulses with his dexterity through each tiny melody change.
The final gift of the night comes in the form of ‘Mountain Time’ – or rather an emotive, nerve-tingling version of the song. It’s moments like these where we as music lovers feel most alive. Basking in the heat of a great piece of art given to us by the best of the best upon a stage that has nothing but fond memories to offer. Without a doubt the highlight.
So what really does make a true bluesman? Well after tonight all I can say is that Joe Bonamassa has the answer, is the answer and to believe it, you really have to see it. The live experience of this timeless musician and his band is so much more than a playthrough. It was my pleasure and my privilege to be a part of a night that once again reminds us why we continue to follow Bonomassa with eager eyes and open arms. Bring on the next.