Joe Bonamassa is a key figure in modern blues. Mentored by such greats as B.B. King, Bonamassa began making a name for himself when he was just a teenager. Currently playing in super-quartet Black Country Communion, he may be known even more-so showcasing his talent in his headlining shows across the world.
From the darkness, a glimpse of a gold-top guitar harnessed on a suited, sunglasses-wearing rock star emerged. Bonamassa did something unusual to start his show. The set began with a number of new tracks from his not-yet-released album that’s due out in September. “King Bee Shakedown”, “Evil Mama”, “Just ‘Cause You Can” and “Self Inflicted Wounds” smashed Genting Arena, Birmingham into the world of heavy southern blues. Gospel backing harmonies flew over trademark blues tones which must have made any long term fan of his salivate to hear more of Joe Bonamassa’s newest accomplishment. The songs sat well with the rest of his material and didn’t feel out of place. He has stuck with what he knows best. And what he knows is nothing but world class.
“Self Inflicted Wounds” gave more show time to keys and brass section with Joe being able to relax and soak in the atmosphere, striking accented chords, relishing in what he has created – a round of call and response perfectly executed across the board. It was around this time where I really noticed just how fluent he was on stage. An example of frankly ridiculous playing and blues riffing full of heavily emotive, soul capturing euphony would travel out across the crowd, meanwhile, Bonamassa would reach back to his centre stage microphone and jump straight onto vocals without skipping a beat or missing a breath. It fails me sometimes to understand how he doesn’t get swept up in the moment. There are a million guitarists who do.
Purple light drenched the stage ready for the slow, heavy number “No Good Place For the Lonely”. Here, as with most of the set, there were no stage tricks. No fire, sparks or even smoke. Only wholesome emotive music. His guitar acted like his very own Babel Fish, no matter where you came from, you knew what he was saying. Even the fast shredding technical licks were made up of calculated micro movements crafted to evoke something inside you.
Coming round to his ninth track of the evening, Bernie Marsden of Whitesnake stepped out onto the stage to a roaring, pleased crowd. This moment showed why aside from being a solo musician, Bonamassa digs his heels in and works hard for band situations. Taking a step back onto rhythm allowed Marsden to freely express his sound and have fun on stage.
The slow locomotive rhythm of “Slow Train” came in with a crash and allowed Joe Bonamassa to show not only his already established guitar skills, but also how much he can really sing with power and conviction. It was “How Many More Times” where a delicacy was displayed with his instrument. Poised and composed, the clean tone was tapped, scrapped and moulded to create an almost euphoric piece before cutting and hammering to distorted, big band harmonious stabs which ended with the audience seeing the most flamboyant stage stances of the night with Bonamassa stretching the guitar neck high into the air calling for the crowd to engage.
Birmingham have been lucky enough to witness a blues guitar legend, playing material spanning across his career and a glimpse into what we can expect in the future. Or September to be precise, and from the crowds reaction – they, and myself, cannot wait.
Photos by Watchmaker Studios