The second night of a three night run at this most hallowed of halls saw this modern-day blues rock avenger at the peak of his considerable superpowers.
Vocally supreme and instrumentally sublime, this was, without doubt, the best performance I’ve seen from the musician, whose trajectory to tonight’s triumph was first ignited thirty years ago, by early mentor Danny Gatton and the patronage of BB King at the age of 12.
The storming opener of Muddy Water’s ‘Tiger in your tank’ set the tone for the evening and was fueled by Joe’s rampaging Telecaster and the high octane purr of his turbo-charged band, driven by the agile bass of Michael Rhodes and the wanton percussion of Anton Fig. Joe’s last two albums featured prominently in opening third, with the Floydian slow-burn of ‘Self-inflicted wounds’ wonderfully contrasted with the hypnotic psychedelia of ‘Blues of desperation’.
A sip of sweet ‘Sloe gin’ always heightens the senses and this longstanding stage favourite had an elevated and stately grace tonight from Reese Wynans’ exquisite keys to Joe’s soaring guitar tone.
This run of shows saw a number of special guest players invited to share the stage for a little rootin’ tootin’ guitar duelling. On the opening night, 12-year prodigy Toby Lee joined for ‘I get evil (don’t you lie to me)’, full of fresh-faced fire and a touching mirror of Bonamassa’s BB’s apprenticeship. For the final night, close friend and Buckingham’s Blues master Bernie Marsden contributed beautiful tone and serpentine style to the same song. Tonight, the honour fell to regular live collaborator (Muddy Wolf and Red Rocks; Live at the Greek), Kirk Fletcher, whose sweet and fervent 335 playing complemented Joe’s own on their barrelling version of BB King’s ‘Boogie Woogie woman’. Just like on earlier track ‘King Bee shakedown’ the duelling horns of Paulie Cerra and Lee Thornburg made their presence felt with Reese relishing his role as boogie-woogie man.
The customary blues-covers section of the set was transformed into full-on Zep-fest, with ‘Tea for One’ segueing into a searing ‘I can’t quit you baby’, where yet again the gospel-rich backing vocals of Jade MacRae and Mahalia Barnes shone brightly. A visceral ‘How many more times’ ensued with the band temporarily reduced to a power trio of Fig Rhodes and Bonamassa. This significantly heightened the dynamics of the song and provided the foundation upon which Joe could conduct his own delicate and dextrous guitar improvisation, rounded-off by a fierce killing-floor coda of ‘The Hunter’.
For the encore, Joe returned to the stage alone, armed only his acoustic guitar for early solo song ‘Woke up dreaming’. As featured on previous tours, this rearranged version lays bare his vocal and guitar virtuosity and musicality. For over ten minutes, he had every member of the audience in this cavernous venue in thrall as he played six-string matador, teasing his quarry as he alternated between featherlight pizzicato flourishes and hammer-blow Townsend-like thrashing rhythm work. It was an utterly captivating display of a master craftsman at work and on conclusion was met with roof-raising acclaim.
The evening closed with a song of yesterday in ‘Mountain time’ from his 2002 album ‘So it’s like that ?’, whose lyrics “Wild as eagles…Sweet as honeysuckle…flowing like a mountain stream” perfectly describe Bonamassa’s eclectic, accomplished and affecting playing style.
We came desperately seeking redemption and we left more than redeemed, with our souls salved and spirits elated by a performance of grit, eloquence and power.
Review: Andy Rawll Photo: John Hayhurst
Event Date: 25-April-2019