Joe Bonamassa - Live at Cardiff's Motorpoint Arena
Seeing Joe Bonamassa live is more an experience than a gig. Over two hours, but felt like half that. Very little time was wasted between songs to keep the atmosphere at a peak throughout. It's over an hour before the band is introduced to break the show into 2 halves.
As the lights dimmed, a comedic message about it not being a One Direction show gets everybody to their seats... Literally everybody, as the show is all seated. Though not normally a fan of all seated shows, in this case it helps focus the attention on Joe Bonamassa and his incredible band.
With a minimal set-up on stage, lights providing mood rather than spectacle, the band kicks into Freddie King's "See See Baby", giving Bonamassa's musicians all the introduction they need, with the sax of Paulie Cerra and trumpet of Lee Thornberg giving the feel of an old jazz club. Bonamassa himself was in fine voice, fronting the band with a presence one only gains from vast experience. The brass section takes the lead mid-song, with Thornberg's trumpet first, followed by Cerra. Bonamassa doesn't disappoint with the first solo of the night, combining his signature licks with screaming bends.
During the evening his band move from backing to leading with ease, holding back on more soulful numbers like “Angel of Mercy”, apart from Anton Fig's first quick but impressive drum solo. Each member during the evening shows why they're there, but Joe Bonamassa takes complete command of the stage when it comes to his solos, the first epic being in “Oh Beautiful” (after Hendrix's “Hey Baby” as an intro).
There is no doubt that the man can keep playing long after you think his fingers can take no more, trading fast pentatonic licks for huge bends with aggressive vibrato. He shines on longer solos, showing his complete mastery of the fretboard, mixing scales and techniques to build fast, complex melodies flowing from one phrase to another. Relentless, minute after minute, building up to a massive crescendo, then ending the song with a haunting vocal.
“Happier Times” again shows the dynamics of the band, understated in the intro and verses, then building to a frenzy in the instrumental sections. Anton Fig earns his money on this song alone, combining a pounding beat with waves of tight fills.
Also providing a solid backbone to songs through the evening is Michael Rhodes. Seemingly in his own world, switching between walking bass lines in “I Gave Up Everything For You” to the driving pulses of “Going Down”, Rhodes seems equally as happy in the background as he does centre stage, trading moves with Bonamassa.
The last piece is Reese Wynans. Providing a deep soundscape to each song on keys, with big chords filling the spaces in the slower tracks, to jazzier runs on the up-tempo songs, Wynans always has the perfect accompaniment for each mood.
For “Trouble Town” a Strat(!) makes an appearance in Joe Bonamassa's hands, showing his proficiency with a slide, smooth and controlled even with a wide vibrato. No acoustic for this show, but “Double Trouble” provides a break from the blistering solos. Here Joe shows his complete mastery of the electric guitar, volume almost completely backed off on his Les Paul, using the tone controls and different pick-ups to achieve a variety of sounds that a lot of other players would use pedals for.
“Breaking Up Somebody's Home” brings us back to the blues-rock that he is very, very good at. Followed up by “Love Ain't A Love Song”, a track from his last studio and live albums, the beat stays up-tempo, giving all the band a chance to show what they can do, before nearing the show's climax.
“Sloe Gin”, a song that most fans must have had massive expectations of; Joe lived up to all of them. Soulful vocals and understated fills lead up to the pounding beat of the mid-section, dropping down to the quiet melody of the keyboard again, before one of the solo highlights of the whole show.
There aren't a lot of songs that could follow “Sloe Gin”, but “Ballad Of John Henry” is certainly one of them. The entire 4000 capacity crowd bobbing their heads as one to the beat of the drums and the pumping bass. Joe rounds off the main set with a fantastic rendition of one of his most popular standards.
Ever one to please the fans, out he comes for one more, encouraging the audience to get up from their seats and dance. For this finale everyone gets a solo, proving why they're on tour with one of the most gifted guitarists in the world. All the band trading solos, Reese Wynans in particular showing great speed and melody, bring the show to a fitting end, although even at over two hours, I doubt anyone would have minded if he'd carried on for ages.
A great show for music fans, whether into blues, rock or other genres, with plenty of talent on stage for non-guitar players. Highly recommended and a tough show to beat.