Joe Bonamassa live at The Royal Albert Hall, London, 4 April 2024

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Review by Tim Marcus

Photos Taken By Simon Green

I first saw Joe Bonamassa when he appeared midway up the billing at London’s High Voltage Festival way back in 2010. Whilst he wasn’t an artist that I was overly familiar with at the time, his was certainly a name I’d come across, even more so when a few weeks before the festival I was lucky enough to win a High Voltage festival t-shirt signed by Joe in a competition draw arranged by the festival organisers (a shirt I still have which sadly over the course of time must’ve shrunk by a couple of sizes!). Although unfamiliar to me, by this time Joe must certainly have already started to make his mark as a year earlier had seen him make his first of what were to become regular appearances at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Further encounters with Joe on festival stages (most memorably with the supergroup side project, Black Country Communion, at High Voltage in 2011 and a solo appearance at Clapham Calling in 2014) soon had me appreciating what a talented and skilful musician Joe Bonamassa was and it’s been no surprise whatsoever to see his star continue to rise, seemingly with no limits as to how high it can reach, over the course of the past decade and a half.

The last occasion I saw Joe prior to this evening’s performance was when he played a run of four shows at Hammersmith’s (then) Eventim Apollo back in the early part of 2015. If I’m brutally honest I have to confess that the show that night left me a little cold. Not because there was anything amiss with Joe’s playing or singing, nor for that matter any of the musicianship on stage. I think it was down to the whole ambience of the event, which with a lectern-like structure taking centre stage, Joe’s immaculate suit, and apparent lack of interaction with the audience during the evening, which despite the super tight, polished performance, to me, gave the evening the feel more of a well-rehearsed, clinically performed theatrical stage production rather than watching one of my favourite musicians playing a live gig.

But back to this evening and we’re at one of London’s most iconic venues, The Royal Albert Hall; beautiful both inside and out. At 7:30 pm on the dot, the house lights go off and the intro music begins as Joe and his band begin to assemble on stage. He kicks things off with the upbeat “Hope You Realize It (Goodbye Again)”, one of several tracks we’re going to hear tonight, perhaps unsurprisingly, from his most recent album release, “Blues Deluxe Vol 2” and follows up with “Twenty-Four Hour Blues”. Despite being once again immaculately dressed in a suit, jacket buttoned up in the centre, my memories of what I felt back in 2015 are soon erased.

The first two songs we heard this evening have simply rubber-stamped the quality of his playing and musicianship, setting the standard for the evening ahead, while by the time we get to song number three of the night, “Well, I Done Got Over It”, it’s clear to see that Joe is chilled and relaxed and enters into a little musical “duelling”, with his keyboard player, whom he later introduces to us as Hall of Fame inductee, primarily for his work with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Reese Wynans. Reese is one of four great musicians making up Joe’s band this evening, the others being, Josh Smith on guitar, Calvin Turner on bass and Lamar Carter on drums. In addition to these four, they’re also joined on stage by two wonderful backing singers, Jade McCray and Danielle De Andrea.

Next Joe slows things down a little for the wonderful, ballad-like, “Self Inflicted Wounds” which I have to say, vocally, is finished off beautifully by Jade and Danielle. “I Want To Shout About It” follows which once again is brought to a fine conclusion by the girls before Joe takes to one of his older Gibson guitars for “The Last Matador of Bayonne”, the deep tones of which, when combined with the brush strokes from Lamar on his snare, produce the most wonderful, gentle and calming overall feel and sound.

We’re probably just over halfway through the show now and Joe is clearly relaxed and enjoying himself as he shares an anecdote with us about his encounter with an official from UK Border Control at Heathrow when arriving in London for these two shows. Without recounting the whole story, It concludes with a line from the immigration official, “I’ve just looked you up and f*$k me you are playing at the Albert Hall!” At this point, it’s time for the band intros before Joe picks up again with “The Heart that Never Waits”, a song that at its midpoint contains an exquisite solo from Joe. At this point I would have said that virtually every song we hear this evening contains an exquisite solo from Joe so to save this review from becoming too repetitive, just take that as a given for everything we’ve heard so far and everything that’s still to come!

“Is It Safe To Go Home?” follows as we then draw close to the end of the main part of the set with a Fleetwood Mac cover, “Lazy Poker Blues” which features a short burst of some great honky tonk piano sounds from Reese before Joe allows Josh to take centre stage for a solo of his own. We’re now down to the final song as Joe changes guitars again (is it the Gibson Firebird this time?), a cover of ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid”. During this song, Joe hands his guitar pick to a lucky but delighted young kid sitting along the side of the stage, before he goes off-piste slightly to give us some “Dazed and Confused” which then leads into a wonderful drum solo from Lamar. And what a wonderful technician Lamar is too. Midway through the solo, there’s some slight amusement, not least from Lamar himself as he loses a drumstick however had you had your eyes closed at this point you’d never have known as he somehow seamlessly picks up another without appearing to miss a beat.

We’re now at the end however and of course, we’re going to get an encore. As the band leave the stage they don’t need too much encouragement to make a swift return. The song we hear is one that Joe tells us he’s often played with Bernie Marsden when he comes to London however sadly that’s something he is not now able to do: “Sloe Gin” tonight is played for Bernie. There’s one more to come though before everyone heads off home (or down to the pub for last orders as it’s still fairly early) and that’s a great version of Robert Johnson’s much-covered blues classic, “Crossroads”.

I have to say that it’s been a great show tonight and I come away from this marvellous venue having thoroughly enjoyed myself with any memories of less impressive evenings now firmly consigned to the back of my mind. This was the first of two nights that Joe’s playing at The Royal Albert Hall on this trip and I’m sure those attending tomorrow are in for an absolute treat.

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