There’s a fundamental problem with some kinds of music. It’s to do with environment. Pop music suits clean, medium-to-large venues, classical music needs classical venues, from country house to church to concert hall, modern jazz sounds best a long way from me. Blues/rock flourishes in sweaty, smoky clubs where you can feel the music as well as hear it. What it doesn’t want is a seated audience, a big light show, drum and keyboard risers, an amp just for feedback, a different guitar for every song.
Joe Bonamassa is a skilled performer, without doubt. His voice is simply perfect for this music, powerful, not always quite in tune (and by this I mean he sounds like he’s trying, not going through the motions) and a little hoarse. His band, well … the mix was poor, meaning I could hardy hear the bass, and the drums were too quiet and seemed too forward in the mix – possibly this was due to large quantities of volume coming from the centre-stage guitar rig, I’m not sure – and the keys were likewise oddly positioned. Again it may have been a monitoring problem, or mis-aligned delays, but the drummer sounded as if he was playing off Joe, not with him, making the band groove simply off. His fills were off, too, as he too often worried about what he was playing rather than where he was going. When the drum solo happened, it was over a version of The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again, and I say version because the keyboard player struggled with his part, while the drummer reminded us just how good Keith Moon was. The keysman’s solo was quite dull, and his semi-mellotron accompaniment of a ‘solo’ Joe tune cheesy in the extreme.
Onto Joe. His music and playing are excellent, without doubt, and he ran the gamut of blues stylisations from Stevie Ray, the Kings, to Jeff Beck and Eric Johnson. He didn’t, however, show much Joe. An unaccompanied piece showed off his Beck-isms, but they were sub-Beck. One song started and I immediately knew it, except I didn’t. Like the tune obviously ‘inspired’ by Born Under a Bad Sign, it evoked the classic without quite copying it.
Joe is, as I’ve said, an excellent guitarist, though I’m not a fan of his vibrato, which I thought weak and shrill, but there’s no danger in his playing. He didn’t make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up, like BB King does (or did) with one note. He didn’t have the brutal, full-frontal assault that Gary Moore used to employ on occasion. He didn’t simply amaze with his control, taste and deftness of touch like Jeff Beck. He didn’t have the tone and fluidity of Eric Johnson.
He’s a class act, but perhaps he’s too busy building a career to become one of the greats. I couldn’t imagine him in a smoky Chicago club.
Here’s my short review:
Wildly popular blues/rock practitioner Joe Bonamassa puts on a slick show, pressing his audience’s buttons with well-practised ease. Wearing a natty suit and wielding a selection of classic guitars, Joe’s arena-friendly blues is a record executive’s dream, and while his tunes and playing are both excellent, they lack a sense of individuality at times: now it sounds like Born Under a Bad Sign; this passage sounds like Jeff Beck. You know what you’re going to get with Joe, and with his powerful, emotive voice he delivers song after song, but it’s hard to picture him in a smoky Chicago dive.