Joe Bonamassa

The Tivoli 21.05.2011

Joe Bonamassa’s folks owned a guitar shop. If they’d owned a car-yard they’d have the equivalent of the world’s premiere F1 driver as a son right now. According to Joe’s own statistic, over 1,500 people crammed into the Tivoli last night. That’s an impressive roll-out for a guitar player and indicative of the status he enjoys as a nouveau blues superstar. Interestingly the crowd wasn’t overwhelming male either. At 34 years of age he’s a charismatic veteran with broad appeal and it’s advisable to check him out as a 12 year old on YouTube to put his talent and career into some sort of context. When B.B. King raves about you at that age, there’s something goin’ on.

Given the mildly oppressive conditions of a packed house (sans seating) there was mercifully no support act to endure and Joe got down to business in short order. Backed up by an excellent three-piece band he worked through five dynamically varied pieces before stopping to say hello. That Joe can really sing is a bonus but that’s a side show compared to his guitar playing.

His tone is as brown as a fine tawny port and he can roll off from a saturated overdrive to a clean clatter without losing a scrap of momentum. His licks and technique are stunning, ranging from a very authentic Paul Kossoff vibrato to blistering top end staccato runs you might expect from someone like John McLaughlin. His guitar tech handed him a range of tobacco sunburst Les Pauls throughout the evening. These were variously capoed up for a particular tune, wired out of phase for a Peter Green sound or Bigsby equipped for a bit of whammy bar action.

Joe’s also an extrovert showman, quite mobile on stage and frequently sky pointing or brandishing his axe ostentatiously. He doesn’t mind teasing the hell out of a Theremin either.

Repertoire included a few cuts from the recently released Dust Bowl and several covers. The Zeppelinesque ‘Ballad of John Henry’ went over a treat after being humorously introduced by Joe as number 10 in the top 10 riffs of the last decade as proclaimed by an obscure radio station poll in Britain. They actually rang him to tell him this. Covers included Mose Allison’s ‘Young Man Blues’ and the guitar sections of ‘Dazed And Confused’ as part of the encore. The most riveting highlight of the night was the solo acoustic guitar spot that went well beyond what you might expect of a blues player and revealed Joe as a fearless virtuoso with a terrifying gypsy style technique that’s just as applicable to a box guitar as a Marshall rig.

If anything detracted from the evening it was the venue itself. It was definitely first in best dressed and those at the back of the cue on the street were mostly restricted to the bar area where the best view of the stage was near the toilet entrance  –  towels anyone? What a shame we don’t have the old rock barn Festival Hall for this type of gig anymore.

At the end of the evening Joe took his shades off so he could look us in the eye to say good-bye and hung around to dole out guitar picks to the tune of ‘Highway To Hell’. Nice touch young man! May you visit us again soon and in the meantime inspire a new generation of blues players worldwide to keep the fire burning.

By Bruce Hardy