Joe Bonamassa, Royal Albert Hall, London, UK April 21, 2017

Reviewed by Michael Rampa

London’s Royal Albert Hall has hosted some of the UKs greatest guitar players; Eric Clapton, David Gilmour and Mark Knopfler to name a few. It seemed a little surreal  when America’s  blues envoy Joe Bonamassa strode onto the stage of the Queen’s theater wielding a Strat and sunglasses  like a muscle car invading the land of Rolls Royces and afternoon tea.  But his garb and his axe proved a fitting representation of the two hour bone crushing blues assault that was to come. The New York native opened with three songs from his latest No. 1 album, “Blues Of Desperation.” With 15 studio albums to his credit, including 11 No. 1s, he has plenty of back catalog to choose from. This tour is all about the new album and the majority of the songs not from it were featured on his “Live From The Greek Theater” effort,  He allotted ample time for numbers for a tribute to the three Kings, He performed B.B. King’s “Never Make your Move Too Soon” and Albert King’s “Angel of Mercy” back to back midway. Fittingly he played the title track from “Dust Bowl” which helped catapult him to superstar status on the PBS special “Live From the Beacon Theater.”
“There is a Nashville thread in the band this time around. Keyboardist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Reese Wynans is best known for his work with Stevie Ray Vaughn’s iconic Double Trouble band, but he has also worked with the likes of Brooks and Dunn and Reba McEntire. CMA winner and Nashville native Michael Rhodes, was on bass. Bonamassa even employed the twangy Fender Broadcaster for a different twist on the scorching cover of Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times.” The only way to shine from behind Bonamassa’s huge wall of sound is if he lets you. On this night, each member of one of the best touring bands in music showcased their respective skills. Wynans was most impressive as he played a medley showcasing styles from rockabilly to a carousel waltz. Rhodes amped up the fun factor with several funky slap bass interludes and drummer Anton Fig (the 29-year veteran of The Late Show with David Letterman) broke out a lengthy solo midway reminiscent of Peart or Copeland. The stage setup was much like the character of the show; aggressive and refined at the same time. Fig was perched high atop a drum riser with white hot spots gleaming off of his 20 inch Zildjans. It was fitting for the power jam on “Love Ain’t a Love Song.” Bonamassa donned a suit and shades for the show’s entirety per usual and was backed by multiple six foot Marshall stacks. He finessed his way through several songs, opting for a deft staccato picking so high up on the neck that he seemed to run out of frets to transition from “Django” to the closer “Hummingbird,” a tip of the cap to the late Leon Russell.

Bonamassa debuted at this venue in 2009 and did a duet of “Further On Up The Road” with Eric Clapton, dubbing the performance as “the coolest thing I’ve ever done.” He has become a welcome regular here since then; being hailed as “one of the greatest living guitar players” and shining as brightly as the best players the UK has to offer. American muscle indeed.