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Joe Bonamassa - Colston Hall, Bristol - October 14th 2010 (Live Review)

Wednesday, 20 October 2010 Written by Jon Stickler
Joe Bonamassa - Colston Hall, Bristol - October 14th 2010 (Live Review)

Is it just me or are the guitarists of today in a league of their own, battling for the year's best album? Not long ago we had the former Guns N Roses icon Slash kick-off the trend with the release his debut solo collection of face-melters. Since then the legendary Eric Clapton has dropped his first batch of new material since 2005, more Jimi Hendrix rare and newly-discovered material has surfaced and renowned electric guitarist Joe Satriani has released his fourteenth studio record, ''Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards'. Certainly the most uniquely-titled record of the year if not the best.

Last Thursday, October 14th, Bristol's sold-out Colston Hall hosted the performance of another contender for the top-spot in the league of best 2010 guitarist albums. Joe Bonamassa was in town to deliver a set that trawled through his eight studio albums and give a display of guitar-playing skills that could only be described as unbelievable.

The gig itself appears to be packed full of 'dads'. These days you can ask your average younger rock fan to name some of the world's greatest guitarists, chances are you're going to hear the names of band's such as Lost Prophets, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and 30 Seconds To Mars. Maybe the occasional Slash, Page or John Frusciante in there too. However, at Colston Hall tonight, we're in the company of not the obvious but the elite.

ImageHaving heard Joe Bonamassa at London's High Voltage Festival earlier this year, I was excited to check out his skills in a more intimate surrounding. I heard the wails and howls in the company of thousands last summer, as well as listening to many of his CDs, but seeing him live in such a personal setting has led me to appreciate his music and his skill even more.

Lucky enough to have myself a great seat, I settle down before my pre-concert chat is interrupted by Iron Maiden's 'Two Minutes To Midnight'. This seems a bit heavy for Joe? Played on the house speakers at what must be classed as '11', I figured this served as a call to take your seats as you could probably hear it in the next city!

The music fades out, the lights go down and Joe walks out on stage, cooler than a Bud on ice. We're straight into 'Cradle Rock' and all eyes are on the man in the middle. Mic stand perfectly centred, even the drum-kit is placed off to the side to give Joe centre-stage. Its all about the guitar tonight. The stage is bathed in light from some nifty-looking spotlights and the whole set-up gives off a stylish yet basic platform for the show.

I’m seated at what is almost eye-level with Joe and close enough to see him work the magic on the fretboard, I’m immediately blown-away by the sounds this guy can create. Collectively, Joe and the band are tight, clear and rocking away the night. Clean-cut and dressed in sharp-looking suit, Bonamassa and his brand of sleek, silky guitar shines through during bluesy tracks such as 'So Many Roads' and more up-tempo numbers such as 'When The Fire Hits The Sea'.

Playing in front of a backdrop made up of hundreds of individual lights, Joe Bonamassa plucks out the opening notes of 'If Heartaches Were Nickels'. The backdrop of lights form a dollar symbol as Joe passionately belts out the lyrics to an enchanted crowd. Setting the scene to up the pace for the next track, Joe steps up to the drum-riser and gives the signal for us to do our bit. Starting off 'Slow Train' with a raising tempo Call-and-Response piece from the whole band, they play the note and we respond 'WHAY', faster and faster until we're full steam ahead into the song.

Another 'Black Rock' track follows with a foot-tappin delivery of 'Steal Your Heart Away' before we have the haunting synths and stunning guitar introduction to the sensational 'Sloe Gin'. Never before have I heard an auditorium fall so silent. Well, I guess its hard to talk when your jaw has dropped to the floor huh! Joe himself was tight-lipped throughout the show, briefly pausing in-between one or two songs to shout a quick “THANK YOU!” I guess its a case of letting the music do the talking here. Joe does stop about mid-way through the set to tell us quick story about a previous visit to Colston Hall, an occasion when he was apparently feeling quite ill. No trace of that tonight as he proceeds to explain a phone-call he had with a journalist about the riff for the next song being voted the Number Twelve out of Fifty best riffs of the last decade. “TWELVE! ONLY TWELVE YOU SAY!? F***” Joe says jokingly before unleashing said riff for 'The Ballad Of John Henry'. You're right Joe, it deserves higher than twelve.

The second half of the show sees Joe dish out yet more master-classes in guitar and just when I think nobody can play any faster than this, Joe hits the notes faster and cleaner than I’ve ever seen! Can I see smoke coming from his fingers!? The choice of tracks are perfectly balanced too. Joe executes slow, moody songs such as 'Happier Times' just as good as he winds the crowd up with more rockier numbers like 'Never Make Your Move Too Soon'.

The lighting sets the mood for next track ,'The Great Flood', as Joe and Co play out a mesmerising rendition, complete with another outstanding solo. Watching in awe, I'm genuinely struggling for words to describe it. This, however, is all before both drummer, keys and bassist depart to allow Joe to breakout his skills on an acoustic guitar. What I thought was outstanding before, is nothing compared to the delivery of 'Woke Up Dreaming'. A single spotlight, one man on stage, one guitar. That's all there is. Bearing this in mind, the tune that fills the auditorium is fantastic. The fastest fingers I have ever seen. With one foot up on the monitor, Joe sets the pace stomping and picking his way to a blur through the song that receives the biggest applause of the night as well as a standing ovation.

Closing the set is 'Young Man Blues' and the epic 'Mountain Time'. What can only be described as a beautiful song plays out a faultless set before Joe reappears a few minutes later for a thoroughly deserved encore. This crowd ain’t moving without one!

Giving us two more songs, 'Bird On A Wire' winds down the evening, giving us that departing 'slow-dance' feeling just before we're told to get on our feet as Joe – wielding the menacing 'Flying V' - rocks us into 'Just Got Paid' to go out with a bang! A massive bang at that! With the near ten-minute rendition including elements of Led Zeppelin's beast of track 'Dazed and Confused', you cant help but give it some head-banging and air-guitar.

He might not be an obvious choice but when asked about the greatest guitarists the world has ever seen, there is absolutely no reason why Joe Bonamassa shouldn’t feature alongside the likes of Clapton, Slash, Page, Van Halen and Hendrix. Think that’s a bold statement? Check him out for yourself. A true guitar legend.
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