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Beard's Blues, Tooting, London May 20 2005

Let's start by doctoring the immortal phrase, ‘He came, he saw, (he blinked twice, took a deep breath), and conquered”! Joe Bonamassa and his gifted band took their first tentative steps into South London , and after an eventful anxious few minutes as the power supply vacillated, the band swept all before them to convert every single person in the venue, to the merits of the Joe Bonamassa band.

Let it be said that in the age of cheap quotes and media hype, Joe Bonamassa is a breath of fresh sir. Not only does the guy play stunningly well, he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre he plays. Joe is totally at ease with his tone colours, he has a rare feel for dynamics, he belts out the blues with passion, and he pushes himself and his band to the limit.

On top of all that Joe has the simple but all too rare ability to communicate with his crowd, giving his extraordinary ability a meaningful context.

On this his first London show, Joe opened up on solo acoustic guitar. And after reducing an expectant capacity crowd to reverential silence, he proceeded to construct a mesmerising set that encompassed layer upon layer of imaginative solos, and hard driving rock blues. The set was punctuated by judicious use of vibrato, sustain, speedy note flurries, and an underlying intuitive feel for the blues. Joe's rhythm section of bass player Eric Czar and drummer Kenny Kramme read him like a book, and unlike far to many bands they don't follow their leader, but push him to play to the best of his ability.

Underpinning the inspired band interplay and sunning solos, is Joe's penchant for the British golden age of Rock/Blues. Tull's “New Day Yesterday” for example has been re-arranged to become something altogether tougher and more durable than the original. Asked what Ian Anderson thought about Joe covering the song, Joe says, that Ian gave him his blessing to play the song if he could name the guitarist who played on the original. I'd hazard a guess that Joe could probably tell you the colour of socks that Martin Barre was wearing at the time!

Joking apart, it is Joe's real feel and enthusiasm for both playing and exploring the outer fringes of Rock Blues that makes him different, and a cut above the rest of his contemporaries. The closing Hendrix/Grateful Dead jam incorporated everything in his guitar playing arsenal, and above all he teased out the kernel of an elongated West Coast jam. This was a sumptuous ending to a memorable show that left me with a head full of slide guitar runs, jangling riffs, and the fanciful notion that there surely must have been more than a trio on stage.

As I said, in an age when hype and style too often triumph over substance, Joe Bonamassa casts a beam of bright light over the often predictable and downright mundane Rock Blues genre. I'd venture that Joe's biggest career obstacle will lie in keeping his chops vibrant, his passion alive, and finding musical outlets for his imaginative guitar playing. For right now Joe Bonamassa is on fire, and to be honest the rock blues mantle could not be in more talented hands.

Review: Pete Feenstra

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