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Royal Albert Hall, London 4 May 2009

By the time Joe Bonamassa recalled the fact that it was barely 5 years since he made his UK debut to some 60 people and that he was now humbled to now be playing to 4,500, he had all but banished any lingering doubts as to how his virtuoso playing and reinterpretation of 60’s Brit blues would transfer to the bigger stage of the Albert Hall.

In truth he played supremely well but left nothing to chance by calling on both Eric Clapton for a stonking ‘Further Down the Road’ and the original British blues boomer and harp player Paul Jones for a rasping version of ‘Your Funeral, My Trail’.

But the icing on the cake aside, this show was both a celebration of Joe’s coming of age as much as a demonstration of the enduring popularity of British Rock-Blues.

For while Joe has predicated his career on historical antecedents he has built up an impressive catalogue of his own.

Opening with the slightly eastern flavoured instrumental ‘Django’ and segueing into the pile driving ‘John Henry’ he also conjured up a lovely tone on ‘Stop’, an impressive drifting blues with a Snowy White meets BB King style flurry as part of an immaculate stop-time arrangement.

Post Clapton, he neatly slipped into acoustic mode for a mesmerising ‘Woke up Dreaming’ on which his playing was inspirational and a tub thumping ‘High Water Everywhere,’ in the company of just two drummers Bogie Malone and Anton Fig.

Cute harmonics aside, this number showed just how much his vocal prowess has improved. And as Joe returned to electric guitar for the tension building ‘Sloe Gin’ - complete with the unforgettable Tim Curry’s refrain ‘I’m So Damn Lonely’ and a brilliant pregnant pause before his guitar cut through - you could almost feel the collective will in the room pushing him on to greater heights.

A quick switch to his flying V and a symbolic toss of his sunglasses into the ranks just before a rousing ‘Just Got Paid’ all but brought the house down, while his use of a theramin was greeted like the second coming.

But then again Joe Bonamassa represents the hopes of a generation past, but one that continues to actively support the British variant of rock-blues, a historical invasion of America that 40 years later he has impressively reversed as a guitarist, bluesman and musical catalyst.

It was perhaps fitting that Joe should finish this master class with a slow blues ‘Asking Around For You’ on which he brought real feel to his sumptuous playing. His heartfelt closing message ‘Thank you London for making this the greatest night of my life’ was a sentiment rapturously shared by all of his disciples last night.

Review by
Pete Feenstra

Best of 2009

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