Joe Bonamassa at Blackpool Opera House
Words and photos: Anthony Firmin
Aren’t we having a lovely time the day we came to Blackpool… yes, we most certainly are and all because a certain American blues guitarist is in town.
From a personal perspective it is 12 years since I last saw Joe Bonamassa in the 500 capacity Academy 3 in Manchester resplendent in his lumberjack shirt, a hot sweaty evening with some hot sweaty blues. Since then this bluesman has released a LOT of albums and DVD’s, collected a lot of guitars and now wears some seriously sharp suits.
Whilst outside the hen and stag parties are getting into swing, inside the Opera House Bonamassa and his band are getting into a blues swing. With a seven piece band, including two brass players and two backing singers, the sound is huge and works so well.
Not surprisingly a good chunk of this evenings show is taken from his last studio album, Blues Of Desperation, opening with a quintet of my favourite songs from that release: This Train, Mountain Climbing, Blues of Desperation, No Good Place for the Lonely and How Deep This River Runs, all outstanding and all played with total conviction.
The set also contains some of the songs from his Three Kings album too, with Never Make Your Move Too Soon, a stunning performance of Angel of Mercy and the Leon Russell song Hummingbird, all are faultless and played with absolute precision by Bonamassa and his band. Although bits of Led Zeppelin often crop up within his set usually embedded within other songs, it was still a surprise to hear an excellent cover of Boogie With Stu.
And between each song there is an effortless guitar change and a procession of the vintage instruments he plays – from Stratocasters to Telecasters, his own custom Les Paul and Firebird with his name inlaid in the neck, and of course the Flying V which sounded spectacular, all performed through vintage amps and speakers. A guitar aficionado’s wet dream.
But there is little point in displaying all this hardware unless you can play – and this man certainly can do just that, beautifully. To prove it each of the songs included extended solo’s, all lapped up by the audience who were absorbing every sinew of every note.
But for me though, the highlight of the show was Dust Bowl. From the intro with Lee Thornburg’s cupped trumpet through to Bonamassa’s soloing, everything is just perfect, you can feel it as it goes through you.
Throughout the whole show the interplay between Bonamassa and his stellar band is honest and real especially with the legendary bassist Michael Rhodes, the band are just so tight performing a great selection of songs.
Next time I won’t leave it so long to see this blues guitar master play live and next time I hope he will play Manchester, it has been too long.