Joe Bonamassa, Manchester Arena 10th March 2018

We have mentioned many times within these pages that blues-rock is thriving. It’s perhaps the strongest the genre has been in a generation and Joe Bonamassa must be the artist standing at the top of the mountain reigning supreme. And it’s a very interesting career he’s had in that he is often working with other artists, whether this be as duo-collaboration such as that with Beth Hart or as a guitarist in more of a band setting, and clearly we are referring to the 4 albums he’s made with Black Country Communion. It’s interesting because Joe is actually strongest when he’s on his own. He has of course played very respectably sized venues with all whom he has worked. However, it’s only when the ticket says Joe Bonamassa do we see him consistently playing and selling out arenas. That’s an incredibly rare artistic characteristic. Tonight we are in Manchester to see Joe perform the second show of his 7-date arena tour of the UK. Clearly there is an established branding for a Joe Bonamassa show as we see this year’s tour again being referred to as The Guitar Event Of The Year. Given that guitar-based music is currently so prominent and popular, that’s quite a statement and a lot to live up to.

As we make our way into the venue, there is a real sense of anticipation in the air. Every seat is already taken and as we work our way through the crowd, fans can be heard whipping themselves up into a frenzy about what an incredible show this is going to be. Joe takes to the stage promptly at 8pm and as expected he is dressed impeccably smart. Wearing his trademark suit and dark sunglasses, it’s clear that this is the uniform that provides respect to both his audience and the music he is about to play. With a telecaster in hand, the crowd instantly bestow a standing ovation before he has played a single note. However, they soon settle down and the show starts with King Bee Shakedown. Interestingly, this is the first of 4 songs from Joe’s new album that he will choose to open the show with. The album isn’t due out until September so it’s quite a risk that the set will include such unfamiliar material, and of course right from the outset. Evil Mama, Just Cause You Can and Self Inflicted Wounds assist King Bee Shakedown in not only kicking off the show in fine style but also creating a demand for the new record now. They are fantastic tracks that’s sit well with Joe’s already strong back catalogue but that also inspire a forward-thinking twist. The press notice promised a set that would include some classic Bonamassa fan favourites, and that’s absolutely what we get tonight. No Good Place for the Lonely provides the opportunity for an extended jam with such virtuosity that’s simply breathtaking. How Deep This River Runs is performed with absolute beauty where the vocals really get a chance to soar in this huge arena. Joe isn’t a huge talker, but neither does he need to be. The music is all the expression he needs. However, after 8 songs he takes the time to share stories around how as a 23 year old he first came to the UK to win over the British people and how nearly 20 years on, at 40 years old, he is still trying to win them over, only now it’s while proudly wearing a suit. A man hugely respectful of the talent that surrounds him, Joe introduces every one of his 7 band members, leaving everyone in no doubt as to how fortunate he feels to have such world-class talent sharing a stage with him: Lee Thornburg (trumpet), Anton Fig (drums), Paulie Cerra (saxophone), Michael Rhodes (bass), Jade MacRae (backing vocals) and Juanita Tippins (backing vocals) are all announced but the biggest cheer goes to keyboard player and Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame inductee Rees Wynans.

Slow Train resumes the proceedings with its low grind, and this offers something which is truly a highlight of the evening. Juanita Tippins takes over on lead vocals showcasing her stunning ability to command an entire arena all on her own. It’s with a huge tip of the hat to Joe that he might afford this opportunity to Juanita and one which subsequently allows her to receive such a rapturous reception. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the evening is Driving Toward The Daylight. Simply the most beautiful of songs, it quietly and tenderly seduces the audience, and it’s perhaps this part of the show that really showcases how Joe’s vocals are absolutely as strong as his guitar playing. Boogie with Stu, a track that has been a constant within a Joe Bonamassa show over the late couple of years picks up the pace, an aural invitation to a party if ever there was one! Last Kiss and How Many More Times are the final tracks before the show concludes with the encore number Hummingbird. Tonight has been an exceptional evening that has proved yet again why Joe deserves the admiration he endlessly receives. We were promised the Guitar Event Of The Year and it absolutely was!

Enjoy the photos below from the show itself!