Review by Harry Paterson and Photos by Laura Patterson
I spoke to God on Monday night. He was busking outside the Arena in Nottingham. Riffing away on an old beat-up acoustic and He was pretty good, too. Mind you, He’s been around forever, right? Plenty of practice hours.
So, anyway, the auld lad’s whipping up a storm. Long white beard gently swaying in the breeze, ancient gnarled fingers flashing across the frets so I stopped to listen, while I had me my last pre-show smoke. He cocked a baleful eye in my direction.
“I suppose you’re here for the gig, right?”
I allowed that, yes; I was here for the gig, actually. He sniffed disdainfully and then started talking. Soon He’d worked Himself up into quite a state. Ranting about the great gigs he’d played, the hep cats he’d jammed with, up there in the clouds. Jimi Hendrix, Muddy, Albert King although Robert Johnson, it transpired, was an eternal pain in the Divine ass. “Fucker went with the opposition, didn’t he?” He spat venomously. “Crafty bastard and his fucking crossroads. What a stroke!”
On and on He raved and raged and bitched and moaned until, slowly, disturbingly, the source of His malfunction became apparent. The poor auld sod was unhinged, delusional. Certifiably insane, in fact. He’d only got a Bonamassa Complex! Can you believe that shit?
God thinks he’s Joe Bonamassa.
For the Marxists among this evening’s audience, at least a rudimentary understanding of dialectical materialism should be a given. The concept, therefore, of two contradictory and opposing conditions existing simultaneously in space and time should present no difficulty and provide something of a clue regarding the brilliance, for there is no other word, of tonight’s events. Not the sterile tightness of over-rehearsed professional mechanics but, instead, the flawless exposition of masters communicating on a level few could attain.
At the same time, because blues is nothing if not an improvisational art, the quartet demonstrated an innate sense and an instinctive understanding of both the music and each other so that off-the-cuff explorations were executed in a manner that seemed as natural as breathing. Tight but loose, Zep-heads might say.
From the mesmerising slow-burn of opener ‘Slow Train’ to the extended encore jam, nearly two-and-half hours later, Bonamassa and his side-men transcended the blues, rock ‘n’ roll, even music itself, and elevated proceedings to nothing less than art of the most sublime kind.
The man himself displayed genius of an almost frightening nature. That his guitar playing was among the greatest many here tonight will ever see seemed almost perfunctory when set against the sheer commitment and physical passion of his performance.
The guitar tech, busier possibly, than the star himself, handed over a bewildering array of instruments, among them such disparate tools as rockabilly-style monstrosities with Bigsby trems to Gibson Firebirds and gold-topped Les Pauls. All of them possessing one vital quality in common; tone. Of course, that sound stemmed from only one place; the very soul of Joe Bonamassa and poured out through fingertips by sheer force of will and emotional commitment alone.
There is something of a special relationship between Nottingham and Joe Bonamassa, to which he alluded as he recounted his debut at The Running Horse, some eight years ago, through to the Rescue Rooms, The Royal Concert Hall and, finally, eight years later, to the Arena. Possibly something of that bond was responsible for the tour de force with which we were gifted.
‘The Ballad of John Henry’, was almost too much to bear, such was its intensity and alongside the self-penned greats, ‘Dust Bowl’ ‘Last Kiss’ and ‘Django’ seamlessly nestled the work of other giants of the form; ‘Sloe Gin’ ‘Who’s Been Talking’ and ‘Blues Deluxe’, the range of expression best described as universal. Indeed, all life was here; sadness, joy, regret and celebration and we were privileged to witness a truly unique talent, an undisputed giant of 21st century music, at the height of his astonishing powers.