Joe Bonamassa was absolutely electrifying last night at the Royal Albert Hall. I have to say, having seen him more than a dozen times over the years, I have never seen him more relaxed, more comfortable or more at one with his audience. And the packed crowd responded, giving his solos standing ovations and fully engaging with him.

As Bonamassa pointed out at one point, this was the 11th time he had played the RAH and he certainly seemed to have developed a real love affair for the old place and in return he seemed very comfortable – familiarity breeding content.

The band last night was right on the mark but very much in the background. Josh Smith on rhythm guitar, Reese Wynans on keyboards, Steve Mackey on bass, Greg Morrow on drums and with two backing singers, Jade Macrae & Dani De Andreas – all stellar performers in their own right but completely in lock step behind the man with the guitar and the suit.

He played a long set – over 2 hours without a break – and it included material from all parts of his long career. This was very much a night for Blues/Rock and in many ways it felt like a good old fashioned rock show, there were no horns or strings, only Reese Wynans keyboards and occasional backing vocals and all the focus on Bonamassa.

Opening with ‘Evil Mama’ and on to ‘Dust Bowl’ his guitar work was electrifying, long solos but not excessive, perfectly paced and pointing at the way of the night. Highlights were many. A brilliant version of ‘Sloe Gin’, tender and emotional, and a great cut of Gary Moore’s ‘Midnight Blues’. The more modern material was covered with a hot showing of ‘I Didn’t Think She Would Do it’ and ‘Conversation With Alice’.
The set closed on ‘Ballad Of John Henry’, all massive riffs and powerful playing, great Reese Wynans Hammond solo and the mushrooms in the ceiling swaying slightly with the sheer power of it.
Of course there were encores and he started out with an acoustic version of ‘Woke Up Dreaming’ and showed he was as versatile on acoustic guitar as electric. At one point he was sounding like Al Di Meola and then into Flamenco and then shredding, all on a Gibson acoustic.
Finally, we had a stunning ‘Mountain Time’, his voice plaintive, the guitar echoing his calls. Absolutely a ‘hairs on the back of the neck’ moment and the audience totally transfixed.

And that was it, the band formed the line and trooped off and suddenly Bonamassa is slapping audience hands, handing out picks and even setlists, completely at one with his audience, definitely something to be remembered.

There have been many special nights with Joe Bonamassa but last night was one of the most special and a performance that will be tucked away in my memories for a great while to come.

Picture by Laurence Harvey