Billed as the “guitar event of the year”, Joe Bonamassa was back this week to trace his London gigging footsteps through venues of increasing size since 2006; starting at The Borderline on 26th March, followed by Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 27th, Hammersmith Apollo on 28th and The Royal Albert Hall on 30th. Strictly speaking his first London gig was at an Irish pub in Tooting Broadway in 2006, which has since closed, so we’ll let him off for missing that one out.
This reviewer has personally seen Joe each time he has played a headline show in London, including that Irish pub gig. Having seen him the most at Shepherd’s Bush Empire and because it is a lovely venue, I opted on buying a ticket for this show. Sadly, I couldn’t afford more than one ticket as they ranged from £40 to over £1000 for the VIP four night package. The ever increasing ticket prices and ticket packaging for Joe’s shows mean that sadly this may be the last time I see him. I do not personally understand why I should have to sit at the back of an arena because I cannot afford the double ticket price to sit near the front, I’m more a fan of first come first served, but Joe is not the first nor will he be the last artist to do this. So I was all the more determined to enjoy the show.
There was no support band, Joe was on stage at 8pm and tonight he declared was “blues night”. Featuring a mix of original material peppered with cover versions, Joe did not disappoint in producing a solid set, flanked by not only Tal Bergman on drums, Carmine Rojas on bass and Arlan Schierbaum on keys, Joe also had a small brass section, of alto saxophone, trumpet and trombone, all of whom had practised the set to perfection. Timings were explicitly perfect, each musician stopping dead at the same time, which was particularly evident in ‘(I Got) All You Need’, his cover of Koko Taylor’s track, which I believe was making it’s live performance debut. With what was no doubt a tremendous amount of material to learn, revise and perfect, it was clear that extensive rehearsals had gone into these shows.
Joe’s cover of Gary Moore’s ‘Midnight Blues’ was a slow, smooth and delicate performance that in itself was a great tribute to Gary Moore. It was one of the standout tracks of the night and appeared only three songs into the set.
By the time Joe broke out into ‘Last Kiss’, the audience had defrosted and started to get their groove on, along with the brass section.
Joe is very good at smoothly switching between fortissimo and pianissimo on his guitar, showing the intricacy of his guitar playing ability and what helps to make him not only one of the legends of our time, but also someone who has made his lifelong mark on the musical world. As he makes these changes in volume, it is great to watch the multitude of expressions that his face goes through as he feels the music.
Joe’s playing and his vocals have only got better over time and, dressed in as he put it, his best red shoes, best red shirt and best red belt, we were watching nothing but the best inside the beautiful Shepherd’s Bush Empire, a fact that was not lost on the audience who, unlike the usual London crowd listened intently, with only the odd whoop from some men at random quieter moments in the set. Joe played solidly for 90 minutes, stopping only for a guitar change (which admittedly seemed like after every song); his playing was relentless and quite frankly superb.
Crowd favourite of the night was undoubtedly ‘The Ballad of John Henry’, which closed the main set. With a killer Hammond organ solo; an instrument whose sound I truly love. The sound mix tonight was well balanced and with the variations in this song, that was clear to hear and the trusty Theremin was not left out.
When it came to Joe’s own material tonight, the majority came from his albums ‘The Ballad of John Henry’ and ‘Dust Bowl’, so it was with great joy that when he came back on for his encore, he ventured further back to play his oldest track of the set ‘Asking Around for You’ from his 2006 album ‘You and Me’, a particular favourite of mine, he played this song beautifully and it had another cracking Hammond organ solo in it. There is nothing complex about it, but it shows off Joe’s vocals and allows him to display his control over his instrument. This was my highlight of the night.
Joe brought the whole band, brass and all back in for his closing song, a cover of Bobby Bland’s ‘Further on Up the Road’, although it was Eric Clapton’s cover version that first turned Joe Bonamassa onto the song. It was a great, upbeat conclusion to the night. If this does turn out to be my last Joe Bonamassa show, then I am pleased it was a truly fine performance from the man I greatly admire.
So, It’s Like That
Midnight Blues (Gary Moore cover)
So Many Roads (Otis Rush cover)
You Better Watch Yourself (Little Walter cover)
Chains and Things
Lonesome Road Blues
(I Got) All You Need (Koko Taylor cover)
The Great Flood
The Ballad of John Henry
Asking Around for You – oldest
Further on Up the Road (Bobby Bland cover)