The BIC, Bournemouth

Joe Bonamassa

Thirteen years ago, I was among eighty or so curious people who took a punt on an unknown guitarist from America called Joe Bonamassa. He was playing his first ever UK gig at Mr. Kyps in the hope that he could get a foothold in the country that exported the likes of Free, Cream and the Jeff Beck Group to the US back in the sixties, bands that inspired him to pick up a guitar when he was a kid. Anyone that was there that night knew he would go far and boy did he, within four years Joe was jamming with Eric Clapton at the Albert Hall in London. Since then he has gone on to conquer the blues-rock world through determination, hard graft, and his own innate talent.

That first gig cost a princely £8. Over the years I got to see him fairly regularly back at Kyps and in out of the way places such as the Cheese and Grain in Frome and the Wharf in Tavistock. By the time he sold out the Shepherds Bush Empire in 2007 tickets were still a realistic £15, a price many fans didn’t think twice about paying. As his star ascended, so did the admission prices until in 2015, a good seat at the BIC would have set you back a not too unreasonable £60. Now here we are in 2018 with Joeís fifth visit to the same venue and prices range from £76.50 up in the Gods, to an eye-watering £155.50, plus fees in the front few rows of the stalls. Over the last couple of years I have seen both Bob Dylan and Paul Simon at the same venue and have paid around £80.00 for the best seats in the house, how Joe can charge such over-inflated prices, compared to the cost of seeing these top-notch artist’s, I have no idea. It is said that bands charge whatever the market can bear, but that doesn’t mean to say you have to squeeze your fans until the pips squeak. Ironically, one of the songs on his latest album is called “Just Cos You Can, Don’t Mean You Should”, I couldn’t have put it better Joe!

OK, rant over, now on with the show, and what a show it was. Bang on eight oíclock the lights went down and a pre-recorded introduction from Paul Jones announced the entrance of drummer Anton Fig, bassist Michael Rhodes, Reese Wynans on keyboards, Lee Thornburg on trumpet, saxophonist Paulie Cerra, backing vocalists Juanita Tippins and Jade MacRae and Joe, resplendent in a light grey suite, black shirt and his trademark wraparound shades. Tonight they were here to promote Joe’s latest album, “Redemption” and that’s what we got from the get-go, as the first four songs were all from said CD. The swing boogie of “King Bee Shakedown” proved to be a perfect opener, as it got the audience on board right from the off, then a similar drum intro to Led Zeppelins “Rock n’ Roll” announced “Evil Mama”, a catchy, riff-driven song accentuated by punchy brass. The mid-tempo blues of “Just Cos’ You Can, Don’t Mean You Should” lowered the intensity, however the brooding, sliding two-note creep of “Self-Inflicted Wounds” provided the first highlight of the evening. A simple well-crafted song (possibly one of the best he has written) gives Joe the perfect springboard for a roof-raising solo and a closing “Great Gig in the Sky” style skat vocal from the wonderful Jade MacRae raised the hairs on the back of the neck.

Joe Bonamassa

Leaving the new material behind Joe returned to his blues roots with a straight reading of Tampa Red’s “Don’t You Lie to Me”, followed by a nod to the 1960’s British blues boom on John Mayall’s “Little Girl”, from the Bluesbreakers “Beano” album. The addition of horns, Wynans keyboards, and the two backing singers gives Joe’s material a power and a soulful texture that lifts his songs out of the humdrum to a higher level. I know it splits opinion, as some of his older fans would like him to revert to the ten-minute solos associated with the power trio format of the past, but I don’t subscribe to that. Although I enjoyed those days (the 2005 Rockpalast DVD is still one of my favourites) Joe is now taking his music to a different place, leaving the twelve bar workouts to others as he mines a rich vein of songwriting, which was amply demonstrated on the next couple of numbers from 2016’s “Blues of Desperation”, “No Good Place For the Lonely” and the moody “How Deep the Rive Runs”. A howl of feedback ushered in an incendiary, gospel flecked take on his classic track “Slow Train”, with Joe, Paulie Cerra, Juanita Tippins and Jade MacRae taking a verse each, for me this soaring performance was the best of the night.

Joe Bonamassa

After channeling the ghost of BB King through his cherry red ES-335 on ìNobody Loves Me But My Motherî and a rollicking reading of Led Zep’s “Boogie With Stu”, Joe encouraged the audience to get to their feet for the stonking “Last Kiss” from 2009’s “Ballad of John Henry”. By the time of the final song, a mass of people had left their seats and surged to the front of the stage where they were treated to an incendiary version of Zep’s “How Many More Times”. How was he going to top that in the encore, by delving back to 2007 and resurrecting “Sloe Gin” that’s how again the band excelled in adding another dimension to a song that has always been a show stopper.

Joe’s return to the BIC, was in my opinion, the best I have seen him at this particular venue and a lot of it was down to his band, he’s had a number of great players in the ranks over the years, but this septet of consummate musicians push Joe to another level, it’s just a pity that it was only the fans with the deepest pockets who got to witness it.

Joe Bonamassa

King Bee Shakedown
Evil Mamma
Just Cos’ You Can, Don’t Mean You Should
Self-Inflicted Wounds
Don’t You Lie to Me (Tampa Red)
Little Girl (John Mayall)
No Good Place For the Lonely
How Deep the River Runs
Slow Train
Nobody Loves Me But My Mother (BB King)
Boogie With Stu (Led Zeppelin / Ian Stewart)
Last Kiss
How Many More Times (Led Zeppelin)

Sloe Gin (Bob Ezrin / Michael Kamen)

Words by John Cherry.