April 7, 2024

All photos by Laurence Harvey

A bit of a celebration tonight – the mighty Joe only had two concerts scheduled in the UK this year, and this, the second one, marks the 15th anniversary of his momentous first appearance at the Albert Hall, which effectively broke his career into the big time. It is also his 12th appearance at the historic London venue, and he makes no bones about his gratitude and appreciation of the fact that it has even been possible. That chat all comes later though; he and the band kick off the set with the rapid-fire bass and vocal line of Hope You Realize It, one of only two original songs from his current blues tribute album, Blues Deluxe Vol 2.

He swaps his Gibson SG for the first of two Les Pauls in what I calculate to be a seven-guitar night, to play two covers from the same album, the first of which is Bobby Bland’s Twenty-Four Hour Blues. The pace then picks up a little up for the swinging pub-blues shuffle of Guitar Slim’s Well, I Done Got Over It. Joe launches into a solo, then there is a sudden drop to almost nil volume, and he plays a quiet section over a rim-shot drum rhythm and minimal bass. It’s the first of several such sudden drops during the evening, because – well – the band is just so good at them!

We leave the latest album and drop back to 2018 for the ambient keyboard wash intro to Self-Inflicted Wounds – this number features a solo from Bonamassa’s deputy guitarist and production partner Josh Smith, and also an impressive vocal solo from Jade MacRae, who is sharing backing vocal duties with Dannielle De Andrea. The two girls add so much to the show, not just by their excellent vocal abilities, but with synchronised movements, and they both seem to be having the time of their lives up on their small podium.

Then it’s back to the new album again, and Joe swaps to a bright red Statocaster for the ‘50s-influenced rock and roll of I Want To Shout About It. Keyboard wizard Reese Wynans stands up to play a rocking solo, right hand on the Hammond, left hand on the Nord piano, and then we have another great piece of vocal duetting from Jade and Dannielle. The pace slows right down now for the funereally slow blues The Last Matador Of Bayonne, from his 2011 classic album Dust Bowl. I don’t think I have heard him play this one live before; it’s a Bonamassa original and features some tasteful soloing on the low strings before building up to another spectacular drop.

Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home, on the other hand, is a regular live fixture, but has not appeared on any of his studio albums.  It starts as a sombre, downbeat rock number, but builds into a highlight of the evening, with a soaring solo. Joe sneakily slides in a couple of bars of melody from Dust Bowl, sharing a grin with bassist Calvin Turner, who is standing, cool and solid beside the drumkit,  in dark shades and a Reese Wynans T-shirt.

They stop at this point and Joe has a bit of a chat with the audience, apologising for the fact that his guitar rig seems to be picking up random radio stations. He introduces the band too, and as ever, is fulsome in his praise, and orders that we all stand up to pay tribute to Wynans, a Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inductee and veteran of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble.

After that, we are treated to the Black Velvet-style slow rock of The Heart That Never Waits, from his previous album Time Clocks. This is always a great live number, with its “I’ll be movin’ on” vocal refrain from the back of the stage. Once again, the band drops to almost nothing for another weeping guitar solo, and he’s right you know, the accompaniment from some local FM station is definitely coming through! This is followed by the other original number from Blues Deluxe Vol. 2, Is It Safe To Go Home, with a big solo, a big finale, and a big crash ending.

Talking of big finales, the last two numbers of the main set comprise Fleetwood Mac’s rapid rocker Lazy Poker Blues, the only actual fast number of the night, and the heavy-rocking ZZ Top cover Just Got Paid. Lazy Poker Blues features a great boogie piano solo from Wynans, and an extended guitar solo from the excellent Josh Smith, which allows Joe to swap his Telecaster for a classic Gibson Explorer to segue straight into the last number – for me, the best-sounding guitar of the night, but maybe that’s because Just Got Paid dispenses with subtlety, turns it up to 11 and lets it all hang out. It also features a drum solo from the brilliant Lemar Carter – yes, I know these solos get a bad rap, but this is genuinely superb. He keeps up a constant kick drum and hi-hat rhythm throughout, which forms a rocking basis for some genuinely inspired improv, without ever breaking up the groove.

Naturally, an encore follows, and Joe announces that this is the same number they played at the end of that initial gig back in 2009. It is also, apparently, the song that is requested more than any other, the atmospheric and emotional country-rock number Mountain Time. And why not? It’s one of his all-time standout numbers, and a regular live fixture, although once again, it hasn’t appeared on any of his studio albums. I’m not really sure the studio could ever do it justice anyway, as it seems to live and breathe when played live, and is an excellent way to conclude any concert. With two sold-out nights, I have no doubt that the Royal Albert Hall will be hosting Joe and his attentive fans again soon. Two hours well spent, from any point of view.