Date / Venue: Friday September 12th, Town Hall, Auckland
I have to say, I was pretty excited to be attending Joe Bonamassa live at Auckland's Town Hall on Friday night. I knew this would be one of those shows that are generally an audience of true fans, the atmosphere would be abuzz with that "fever" in the air as expectant fans finally get the chance to see the hugely talented and unnaturally adept blues-rock guitarist singer-songwriter in the flesh for the very first time in New Zealand... and it was... and he didn't disappoint!
The simple stage setting tickled me pink when I took in the array of instruments... stating these guys mean it and WILL BRING IT! A collection of acoustic guitars, Marshall Amps, Banjo, Mandola, Keys which also included a Hammond (the true sign of any blues-rock keys player worth their weight), Drums, Conga's, Nyckelharpa plus a huge array of percussion instruments; I knew we were in for a real treat.
As I wondered where the electric guitars were, and looked at the mainly 35-50-ish year old audience, my thoughts were interrupted with Joe popping himself on a chair (very promptly & right on time) surrounded by his acoustic guitars. To warm applause & whistling from the audience, Joe expertly performed a solo of his'Woke up Dreaming'. I was immediately awestruck by his unfaltering playing and natural rhythm, Joe's been performing since he was 12 and with many notable blues players including Eric Clapton and BB King. Recently the Grammy nominated blues player has also collaborated with Beth Hart to much acclaim.
Next up to perform a rendition of Bad Company's 'Seagull', he was joined by Derek Sherinian. Dubbed the "Caligula of Keyboards" by Alice Cooper, Sherinian has played alongside such greats as Buddy Miles, Billy Idol, KISS... the list goes on. Seeing Sherinian, (also a co-founding member the hard rock Black Country Communion alongside Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham, and Glenn Hughes) definitely boosted my excitement levels.
Also joining the line-up was the renowned Swedish musician and producer Mats Wester on nykleharper & mandola, I was really looking forward to seeing how this all came together. Ireland's Jerry O'Conner bought his skills on the Irish fiddle and the banjo to the table where without a doubt he deserved his place, I felt O'Conner bought that extra something special to Bonamassa's acoustic set, one can easily see why he has remained touring with Bonamassa since 2013.
When I saw US percussion extraordinaire Lenny Castro on the stage, I really got excited. Castro; one of the most recorded freelance session musicians who for a time toured with Toto; has worked alongside a raft of seriously acclaimed musicians in his years from Booker T, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones... again the list goes on and on. I was spellbound by Castro's performance the entire night. Castro possesses some serious groove, delivered with a huge smile. Serious Castro kudos from me!
The set progressed with John Martyn's 'Jelly Roll', Bonamassa's 'Black Lung Heartache', 'Happier Times' andTom Wait's 'Jockey Full Of Bourbon'; Bonamassa seated, added life to the performance rocking backwards & forward with his determined playing style.
Moving on with 'Dislocated Boy', Chris Whitley's 'Ball Peen Hammer', Castro's solid beat & amazing percussion and mesmerising solo's, O'Conner's cutting fiddle, Sherinians keys grooved whilst Bonamassa stamped his foot throughout and got the audience's pulses heading skywards then back down again, A huge sound was delivered in our fair town hall.
Joe; to tremendous applause greeted the audience happily welcoming and thankfully stating it was a dream come true for him to be in our very fine country, which always goes down well with me. After introducing the band to more applause, the set concluded with 'Athens To Athens', the audience stomped & clapped to the sounds of the fiddle; Bonamassa forcefully bent the guitar to his will it seemed. As the lights went down and Joe and band left the stage; I felt that fever in the air and I couldn't wait for the next set.
The band with little fuss back on stage, Bonamassa armed with a gorgeous Gibson Les Paul, the band were now joined by Rock Candy Funk Party's; Tal Bergman on Drums and New York's hugely talented Carmine Rojas on Bass, I was now in my viewing element.
The lights came to life and together the band delivered a huge rendition of 'Dust Bowl'. The heavily rumbling sound and howling guitar solo gave the fans what they came to see, looking like a guitar god centre stage Bonamassa and his band completely delivered for me. Castro beat the congas, Sherinian worked his Hammond hard, Tal delivered a solid beat and a solo, Waster & O'Conner bought that something special while Rojas and Bonamassa riffed off each other rocking hard... queue the iPhones held high in the audience.
For the remainder of the set feauturing 'Oh Beautiful', Chester Burnette's 'Who's Been Talking', The Jeff Becks Group's 'Blues Deluxe', Bonamassa's' 'I Gave Up Everything For You ‘Cept The Blues', 'Love Ain't A Love Song', 'Sloe Gin' and 'Ballad Of John Henry' there were many highlights for me. Bonamassa is a true genius and plays like he knows his guitars better than his own right thumb, sometimes his body contorted with guitar screaming, looking and sounding like an unbelievable power is about to burst forth. The band, are most certainly experts at what they do. Together they mean it, love it and brought it! To foot stomping & huge applause the band performed their well-deserved encore of the instrumental 'Django' and 'Mountain Time'.
For me, the only thing that let Bonamassa down and I say let him down as beyond his control, was the sound, which I have put down to the room and possibly sound tech, vocals could be a little inaudible or too loud at times, which seemed to be dependent on where you were in the room. Aside from the unbelievable talent I had just witnessed, one must also appreciate their comradery and onstage enjoyment that was plain to see. Even after years of his well-known, horrendous touring schedule what I saw... was a stage of true musicians doing what they love and playing the blues like no others. Hopefully Bonamassa will be back again soon taking his unique form of the blues a little further around our fair New Zealand. I will most definately be in attendance.
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