When Joe Bonamassa’s dad showed his young son the video of Cream’s Farewell concert from London’s Royal Albert Hall little did he know where it would ultimately lead them.
Watching spellbound, the young Joe calmly declared that he was going to be a guitar player and would one day play in the same majestic surroundings that he had just seen.
We all have dreams. I was going to play professional football and my best mate was going to be a rock star. The thing with Joe though is that he actually made it happen. On the 4th May 2009 clutching his Gibson he walked out onto that very stage and delivered a truly stunning performance.
That night has been superbly captured on the double disc DVD release, Joe Bonamassa Live From The Royal Albert Hall. It acts as living proof that dreams can indeed come true. Not only that but he is joined on stage for part of the concert by none other than Eric Clapton, the man who had inspired him in such a life defining way all those years ago.
In many ways, watching Joe play this venue is the culmination of years of belief many of us had in this young guy from New York. I saw him several times on his earlier low-key forays into the London scene at intimate venues such as the superb Borderline club near Oxford Street. There I had stood right up by the modest stage marveling as he played some of the coolest guitar I had seen since, well, yes, Eric Clapton.
Totally devoid of rock star attitude, and lacking anything resembling arrogance you can’t help but like the guy. He lets his incredible skill do the talking in a well chosen, brilliantly paced, electrifying set that fully justifies why we were rabidly enthusing over his arrival a few years back.
It is a skill that has already seen him named as Guitar Player Magazine’s Best Blues Guitarist in 2007, 2008 and again in 2009. In that time, of course, he has built a huge army of admirers. Let’s face it, Eric Clapton doesn’t pitch up for any old guitar player does he?
The sound on the DVD is remarkably good despite the Royal Albert Halls notorious reputation for presenting various sonic difficulties from a recording perspective. No doubt it has been fixed and tidied up but you wouldn’t necessarily know it as Joe delivers some of the most satisfying blues guitar you will hear in a long time.
As he is filmed visiting the venue for the first time, it’s full-on sumptuous majesty opens out below him. He suddenly realizes the enormity of what he is about to do, saying “it’s daunting and exciting”, before adding thoughtfully, “and I only have one chance to get it right.”
That thought would worry a mere mortal and may even have caused Joe a few nervous nights of fitful sleep. However, Joe Bonamassa isn’t a mere mortal he is a guitar virtuoso of the highest calibre. As soon as his feet hit that famous stage something clicks in his mind and away he goes to deliver a concert of the highest possible quality.
Bolstered by the synchronized double drumming of Bogie Bowles and Anton Fig and a cast of excellent musicians, he announces his arrival and the fulfillment of his dream by rattling through a superb early section.
He opens with “Django”. It’s a brave choice being a track potentially full of early pitfalls and one that needs to be, as it is here, note and pitch perfect. Seamlessly he moves into “The Ballad Of John Henry”, “So, It’s Like That”, and “So Many Roads” as this magical evening begins to open out.
Next up he delivers a smoldering “Stop!” This is a track that showcases all the elements that make this DVD a memorable experience. Effortless guitar is joined by confident and natural vocals and it’s all topped off with an excellent supporting role from his band. Joe doesn’t need to strut and deftly lets his guitar playing reflect the majesty of his surroundings.
To further emphasize his dream come true he is then joined on stage by Mr. Slowhand himself. In a separate interview Joe excitedly describes just how “big a moment” it was going to be for him to see Eric Clapton out there with him. When it comes down to it Joe isn’t overawed by his hero and together they play an excellent “Further On Up The Road.”
This two disc set is a must for lovers of the blues, Clapton, Cream, and the growing army of Joe Bonamassa admirers. The set also contains a revealing and generous interview with a nicely modest Joe filmed on the tour bus on the way to the concert.
During the interview he takes us track for track through most of his set list explaining the background for each and the reasons for their inclusion. The interview includes a touching background to the beautiful “Happier Times” one of the highlights of any Joe set, not least this one.
Talking of highlights “Sloe Gin” closes disc one with the sort of panache that summarises just what he is all about. Also included is a lovely acoustic track “Woke Up Dreaming” where his guitar mastery can be seen in all its spellbinding glory. It’s stunning and should not be missed despite being tucked away as part of the generous bonus material.
Another moment sees Blues legend Paul Jones, of Manfred Mann fame, join him to add yet more quality to a show already top heavy with the stuff.
Joe’s dad, who was there to witness the fulfillment of his son’s Albert Hall ambitions, did us all an incredible service by showing Joe that old Cream film. My excited enthusiasm that followed those Borderline gigs a few years back is fully justified by this special night at the famous old venue.
So dreams can come true. All you need is god given talent, belief, skill, sheer hard work, and a dad like Mr. Bonamassa senior, and who knows?
Not to be missed.
Joe Bonamassa's official website has loads of up and coming live dates and snippets of film from this DVD to enjoy.