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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
JOE BONAMASSA Shepherds Bush Empire, London, March 29th 2007
Joe Bonnamassa It’s my birthday, and for a special treat we’re at the Shepherds Bush Empire to see the latest hot-rod blues guitarist from the USA, Joe Bonamassa. Joe’s not that well known over here – but he’s managed to sell out the Bush, which is packed to the rafters with mobile phone camera-wielding guitar anoraks both young and old, and a very nice crew they are too.
We’re standing at the back (in sardine mode) next to the Shepherds Bush Philosophical Society for Indigent Gentlemen, who’ve obviously spent much of the evening debating matters of great import in the pub, but they’re not short of a knowledgeable and well-informed word or two to help us (and those around us) appreciate some of the finer points of the evening. “Rory Gallagher would fucking wipe the floor with him”; “how many Jimmy Page riffs has he played now?”, or – as Joe uncharacteristically slips into an exotic minor key – “Oh no, it’s the fucking Ravi Shankar bit…”
Although I struggle to visualise this, Joe apparently started playing the guitar when he was only four (his Dad owned a guitar shop). No doubt he was nurtured in a crib on top of a Marshall Vintage reissue all-valve JCM-900 100 watt stack. He was good enough on the axe to be opening for B B King (who described him as “unbelievable” and “one of a kind”) by the time he was twelve, and began recording with the sons-of-the-stars band Bloodline, before releasing his first solo album in 2000 at the age of 23. He’s now recorded eight albums of which the most recent, You and Me, was released last year. He’s on a short tour of Europe and then seems to be spending much of the rest of the year on the road back home in the States.
Marshall amp
Marshall JCM 900
4100 Dual Reverb
What else? Well Ted Nugent (remember Ted?) played with Joe and recalled the experience thus: "Last night, my musical jihad grew even more hair on its scrotum, because I got to jam onstage, no band, just a couple of Les Pauls and a kid named Joe Bonamassa, a white kid from New York …this kid deserves to be in the same class with Stevie Ray Fucking Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck. It was really inspiring.” And although I’m revealing no details of my scrotum let me echo Ted’s words – this boy’s guitar playing is technically on a another planet. I mean he must be good – he’s got a collection of over 150 guitars to practise on!
Sadly technique isn’t always enough. There’s no shortage of great playing, either from Bonamassa himself or his extremely competent band, bassist Mark Epstein and drummer Bogie Bowles. The problem is that, even more than the audience, Joe seems to be stuck in a bit of a time-warp, somewhere like 1973 to be precise, and to be honest as the night went on I began to get a bit confused as to which birthday I was actually celebrating.
Joe Bonamassa   You see Joe likes to wear his influences on his sleeve, so amid flashes of Albert King phrasing and occasional B B King licks the most predominate sources of inspiration were that gang of ne’r-do-well British rockers from a few years before Joe was born, Gallagher, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, et. al. And if Joe’s mastered their styles almost to perfection then he’s also borrowed Gary Moore’s almost prehistoric Monsters of Rock grimace combined with Alvin Lee’s wonderful extending chin (cf. Woodstock, ‘I’m going home’).
Joe Bonamassa
There’s also the obligatory acoustic guitar bit, where he nearly burns the frets off his lovely guitar playing ‘Woke up dreaming”. But really once you’ve got over the fact that he can really play it that fast, that loud, that quietly it all becomes somewhat prosaic. And what finally did it for me was Bonamassa’s bizarre choice of the Yes classic ‘Starship trooper’ as his closing song (a regular feature of his set apparently). I wondered if I was the only person in the Bush who actually heard Steve Howe play THAT guitar solo from the coda back in 1971 at Birmingham Town Hall, almost 36 years to the day. And to be frank, in so far as I can remember, Steve played it better.But still, for guitar fanatics Joe is the man, and if that’s your cup of tea then you should certainly go and see him, buy his CDs or have a look at the numerous video clips on You Tube (if you’re very keen you can even watch him demonstrate his pedal board – cool!). He’s an electric player, but with all the charisma of a singed guitar pick – so don’t expect a lot by way of entertainment beyond the riffs. And one final thing I should say, is what a lovely audience and a good atmosphere. So a particular thank you to the chaps in the mosh who kindly took the Photographer under their wings and helped her get a decent picture, and of course to the Philosophical Society: “Hang on, didn’t Peter Green play that line with the Bluesbreakers in 1967….?” - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)



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