Live Review: Joe Bonamassa at Royal Albert Hall, London – April 4th 2024

Review – Peter Coates
Photos – Marty Moffatt

Any Joe Bonamassa show is something of an event, and the now fairly regular occurrences at the Royal Albert Hall are on another level.  This was the 11th show here in 15 years, and the first of two nights, and the local musician network was out in force to watch one of the masters at work. The lights dim, and the intro tape gets overtaken by the band, and then Joe hits the stage in sharp suit, shades and sneakers, and we are off and running.

I wrote a fair bit about each of the tracks we were treated to, and on review have realised that in many cases what I wrote is pretty much the same – driving bass and drums, Hammond Organ prominent, and slick rhythm guitars, allowing Joe Bonamassa to provide the delicate melodies, sharp licks and searing solos.

Hope You Realise It features the Gibson SG, and provides the first of countless impeccable solos, and then the Les Paul comes out for the Bobby Bland cover 24 Hour Blues, with the two ladies on backing vocals, Jade McRae and Danielle De Andreen, really opening their account, supporting the evocative vocals from Joe Bonamassa.  Lemar Carter on the drums is just a machine, and provides the first of many superb performances in the solo section.  You have to feel a bit sorry for any second guitarist onstage with Joe Bonamassa, but Josh Smith is introduced as “the best guitarist on this stage tonight” and he really holds it down with the backing band to allow Joe Bonamassa free reign.

Another cover is up next, with Guitar Slim’s Done Got Over It, which is a real throwback blues jam, and a stripped back middle-eight showing some real dexterity on the guitar work prior to the main solo.

A change of Les Paul’s for Joe’s own Self Inflicted Wounds, which is an impassioned epic, opening with a bass highlight, and another really intense vocal performance for Joe Bonamassa, supported by the ladies on the BVs, which Jade McRae really excelling in her solo piece, and then the guitar takes flight.  His precision and control are extraordinary, which sometimes suggests an overly-clinical approach, but there is no doubt tonight in the passionate intensity of the playing.  There is a rollicking rendition of I Want To Shout About It, the Ronnie Earl standard, this time on the Stratocaster, and Josh Smith gets a solo spot himself which confirms he is definitely no slouch.  Joe Bonamassa also starts to let rip on his solo, with so much work around the top of the fretboard that is simply immense, and leaves many jaws dropped around the RAH.

The big Gibson comes out for the second major epic in the ballad The Last Matador of Bayonne, which sees Joe Bonamassa again showing his vocal prowess, and some really delicate guitar work which steadily leads up to the unexpected blitzkrieg of the main solo, which is just breathtaking.  Another swift change of tone with the joyous workout of Breaking Up Somebody’s Home that showcases many of the band members, with crisp drumming accents, a rumbling bass line and some signature keyboard wizardry from the great Reece Wynans (SRV’s Double Trouble) on the organ and electric piano, and some more guitar slickness from Josh Smith.  This raises a real desire to see a full-on guitar battle between the two, but so far Joe Bonamassa is too cool for this.  He gets really animated in his own solo, with Lemar Carter letting rip on the kit, making it hard to tear your eyes away to focus on the main man!

Next up for abuse is the Telecaster, and we get some extended band intros from Joe Bonamassa before The Heart That Never Waits allows his to show off incredible sustain control as well as nimble fretwork, and then he goes off like a man possessed for the climactic solo.  This is a Joe Bonamassa that I have not seen before – and I love the departure from the ultra-cool technician to unrestrained guitar here.  He’ll never be compared to Ted Nugent or Jared James Nichols, and he still never makes a mistake, but he certainly plays with as much emotion and intensity as those two wild men of the guitar.

The Les Paul (well a Les Paul at least) comes back for the soaring lead breaks of Is It Safe To Go Home, with some funky piano from Wynans supporting the soulful blues, with Joe Bonamassa making the guitar wail like Gary Moore or Snowy White on steroids, with that degree of abandon that is rarely seen, but may be more common at these RAH shows which Joe clearly loves.  The band gives us the Fleetwood Mac cover of Lazy Poker Blues which includes a showcase workout on the piano and a fantastic solo from Josh Smith, while Joe Bonamassa switches to the Explorer to drive us into classic rock mode with the medley of Just Got Paid with the Dazed & Confused riffing mid-song.   There is a superb drum solo from Lemar Carter following which Joe comes back out and mid-song waves a young boy over from the side seats, and hands him a plectrum, which gets the crowd erupting to their feet!  We get riffage and powerchords that are most un-Bonamassa like, and the closing to the set could be out of the great years of Rush.

The RAH crowd gets a little bit rowdy, and the band re-emerges, Joe Bonamassa giving a heartfelt tribute to the late great Bernie Marsden before launching into Sloe Gin and there is clearly pure delight amongst the whole band onstage, with Joe delivering a subtle nod to the skies in recognition of Bernie M before launching into to the solo, as a fitting recognition of a fellow great bluesman.  The set is brought to a close with a stirring version of Crossroads, with Josh getting the opening salvo in, before Reece cranks up the Hammond Organ, and we get a guitar / organ duel that is just epic.

Joe Bonamassa is fortunate enough to be able to surround himself with the peak in quality musicians, and he gives them respect and space to shine alongside him, and the result is a superb night of blues guitar excellence from a fantastic band, fronted by a quite special guitarist.