On what now feels like a rarity after recent years, a wonderful stroll through a rather sunny London day couldn’t get much better, but finding yourself walking through Hyde Park to the ever impressive Royal Albert Hall will always strike you with its grand architecture and give you that brief moment of pause to remember that gigs for a very long time, we not a thing all so recently. Finally though, they have returned, and in full flow, the night of the fifth being the first of two for a certain legendary bluesman. Thirteen long years have passed since the New York born, sharp-dressed man Joe Bonamassa first stepped onto the impressive stage of the Royal Albert Hall, and during tonight’s set, it is a thing he remarks upon as during the year where the world of live music closed down, he himself for six long months believed the gig was up and that could be it, much like us. If anything though, it proved to be a much welcomed return.
The stage was set, no gimmicks, no fanfare, no bravado, and feeling rather odd, no support acts. There was no wasted time and absolutely no messing about. A somewhat stripped-back approach was taken in the small tour taking part across the UK, a core band of guitarist, drummer, bassist and keys would join Mr. Bonamassa, with the addition of duel back vocals and nothing more. No brass section or the like.
Joe and the band take to the stage and leave little time to mess about, they kick the evening off with Redemptions opening track, ‘Evil Mama’, and from the off, it feels like no one has missed a beat, the world never shut down and we are all back in business without that odd feeling like you’ve returned to work from holiday and need a moment to remember how you do your job. Guitar changes come thick and fast, all feeling very fluid between songs and Joe seems to have almost a different guitar for every song in the set! It is during these first few changes the man can be spotted with a bit of a smile on his face as he faces his band behind as if to say “Wow, this is happening!” The often proud, and business first style Joe brings to the stage gives way the more the set continues, often joking with the crowd, an ongoing one of which would be about his fancy shoes…which cannot be lied about, were very noticeable from the very start of the set! The joy didn’t stop there as he continued talking about the band, introducing each member favorably as the best in the World, and what a band it was, including Steve Mackey on bass, soon to be returning to the Royal Albert Hall with Peter Frampton, Greg Morrow, the man behind the drums who quite honestly has drummed with anyone you could think of, rhythm guitarist Josh Smith, whom Joe soon beamed with pride in stating as by far the greater of the two guitarists on stage, and of course the legend behind the keys, best known for his work with the legend Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Reese Wynans.
How he has missed the stage is clear to see with his reactions to the crowd and band with him, It isn’t lost on Joe that the fans clearly have missed it too, as he managed to quieten the venue over and over with his fabulous control of volume and flawless technique laid bare. The only dampener of the night would be the early finish to the set, but what a set it was. The suit clad man hits almost a different album with each song played, only Redemption and Royal Tea being albums represented more than once that are original tracks. Always fond of playing a cover or two, we get the fantastic renditions of Gary Moore’s ‘Midnight Blues’ and encore closing, the unforgettable and must be played to hold back the wrath of the keyboard warriors after, ‘Sloe Gin’ for good measure. The entire night seemed a more formal affair, everyone seated for the majority, but in unison and just to show how small the venue was in his hands, a single lifting of Joe’s arms to the crowd was enough to lift the venue to their feet. One fan, in particular, getting a fantastic treat of Joe walking overlooking him dead in the eye before telling him to “Hold that!” and passing off his Telecaster for a moment to remove his suit jacket. Just the perfect treat for the perfect night.
Events like this often seem unforgettable, but the first of two nights at the Royal Albert Hall genuinely were unforgettable. The slog back through London for trains homemade far easier with the fresh memories of witnessing a true blues legend of our era in his rightful place where he belongs.
All images used and copyright ownership belonging to Zoran Veselinovic, Instagram: @abbeyroadwall