In March 2013, blues rock guitarist and vocalist Joe Bonamassa performed in London at four different venues with four different bands and four different set lists. It was all caught on film and is presented in this box set, Tour de Force: Live in London, which consists of four feature DVDs and four more discs of bonus material. Overall, it is well over eight hours of viewing and listening material, enough to keep any Bonamassa fan busy for quite a while.
The venues range from the intimate club setting of The Borderline, which hosts 200 people, to the magnificent Royal Albert Hall. He also played the famous Hammersmith Apollo, where many of Bonamassa’s rock favorites have played, and Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
Bonamassa first played The Borderline early in his career. He seemed to feel pretty comfortable kicking things off there, playing music from some of his earlier albums, power trio-style, with only Anton Fig on drums and Michael Rhodes on bass to accompany him. These were extended takes with lots of fancy guitar work and a pretty heavy beat. Highlights included “Spanish Boots,” “Blues Deluxe,” “Don’t Burn Down That Bridge,” and a fiery version of Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?”
For night two at Shepherd’s Bush, Bonamassa chose to emphasize the blues-playing for which he is most famed. This time he was backed not only by Carmen Rojas on bass, Tal Bergman on drums, and Arlan Schierbaum on keyboards, but a full horn section as well, with Lee Thornburg on trumpet, Sean Freeman on sax, and Mike Feltham on trombone.
While Bonamassa seemed a little stiffer on stage, it was a virtuoso performance with highlights including “Slow Train,” “You Better Watch Yourself,” “The Ballad of John Henry,” and “Further on Up the Road.”
At the Hammersmith Apollo for night three, Bonamassa decided to crank up the volume and prove he can rock. Backed again by Rojas on bass and Bergman on drums, with Schierbaum on keys, he added Lenny Castro on percussion and Doug Henthorn on backing vocals to tear through such numbers as ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid,” Rory Gallagher’s “Cradle Rock,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Tea for One.” In addition, he did excellent versions of “Jelly Roll,” “Who’s Been Talking,” and “Sloe Gin.” This was a very strong set.
This reviewer’s personal favorite set list was at the Royal Albert Hall, beginning with a completely acoustic set that is just superb. During the set, he used most of the artists he had used at the other venues: Rojas, Bergman, Henthorn, Castro, Schierbaum, and Rhodes. He added Gerry O’Connor on fiddle, mandolin, and banjo, and Mats Wester on nyckelharpa. Percussion for the acoustic set included spoons! It was an amazing and marvelous final night, which included completely different versions of some of the songs he performed on other nights, like “Jelly Roll,” “Slow Train,” “The Ballad of John Henry,” “Just Got Paid,” and “Sloe Gin,” among others.
Altogether, the four nights were a diverse and delightful experience which, thanks to the excellent video and audio quality, the viewer gets to fully share. It really was a tour de force and we are lucky to be able to experience it again anytime we like with this box set.
As for the bonus material, each feature DVD comes with a bonus disc giving a glimpse behind the scenes, a look at the making of the show, and a collection of photos from the event. Each also comes with a booklet with a message from Bonamassa, a little bit about the event, some photos and the set list, band, what guitars were played, and the tour personnel.
The review set that I got provided everything except the case. I am not able to speak from personal experience about that, but according to Amazon it comes in a box that looks and feels like a Marshall amp.
Certainly, this set would be an amazing gift for any Bonamassa fan or for yourself. It lives up to its name in every way!