I’d been watching bits and pieces of Joe Bonamassa’s Live from the Royal Albert Hall DVD, but today I sat down and watched the whole thing, start to finish. I have to say that this is one of the best concert DVDs I’ve seen – and remember, I’m a rock guy.
It’s a great performance – by Joe and everyone involved, meaning the band, the light and sound folks and, not least, the video team. No glitches, no mistakes, no cameramen in the pictures and on the stage. On the flip side, GREAT sound (good tones, good EQ balance), great visuals and great playing.
Joe says at the beginning of the DVD that he only had “one shot to make it right and I really wanted to make it right.” He, and everyone else involved, did.
I’m not going to break down the whole thing track by track, but here are some highlights and more of my impressions.
> The DVD starts with an intro, which you might have seen via YouTube. Joe is his usual well-spoken self, and you can easily see how stoked, awed and a little dazed he is to be playing at the RAH (Royal Albert Hall) – and with Clapton!
> The whole DVD is…I guess the best word is, majestic. The musical intro to the show is majestic (good story about that in the DVD extras). The addition of Anton Fig to the stage as a second drummer is great musically – Anton is a monster drummer – and also makes everything look bigger and no doubt sound bigger. (Very cool how Anton and Joe’s “regular” drummer, Bogie Bowles, play completely synchronized – yes, in a synchronized swimming kind of way!) Plus there’s a horn section. So not Joe’s regular band, but a bigger one that helps make the whole sound bigger.
> The theremin is just plain cool!
> Joe plays “Further On Up the Road” with Clapton – who, I hate to say it, has a dull-ish tone to my ears. But he’s still Clapton (everyone bow)! Very cool because Eric looks like he’s having fun – I wish he played a few more tunes – and Joe is obviously thrilled. What guitar-slinger wouldn’t be, even the famous ones?
> “Sloe Gin” – I’m hearing a Mark Knopfler guitar tone on this tune, played on what I assume is his 2007 Gibson Les Paul Historic Gold Top.
> I liked the second half (DVD 2) of the concert better. Don’t know if Joe and the band loosened up or if it was more Bonamassa tunes or something else, but I just dug it more. The following tunes were played in the second half.
> “Lonesome Road Blues” – Very cool extended solo.
> The second finger-plucked solo on “Your Funeral My Trial,” with well-known blues Brit Paul Jones sitting on harmonica, is great.
> LONG intro into “Blues Deluxe” – sweet! Great volume-knob-swell fill in this tune, great singing too. The tone of the Les Paul on this one – an ’07 ’59 Historic – isn’t my favorite (honky), but that’s like saying there’s not enough salt (says who?!).
> “Story of Quarryman” – Excellent.
> Joe straps on a Flying V for the last tune of the show (pre-encore) and the crowd goes nuts. I want one! The last tune is “Just Got Paid” by that little ol’ band from Texas, and Joe kills it!
> The encores are “Mountain Time” (great simple tune) and “Asking Around for You” (awesome chord run at the end). The latter is a slow tune, and I didn’t understand why Joe closed the show with it until I watched the DVD extra interview with him on the tour bus. A darn good reason.
> At one point Joe says he started playing in London to a club audience of 50 to 60 people – just 5 or 6 years ago. The RAH gig was attended by 4,500 – that’s some growth!
> On stage he says, “Thank you London for making this the greatest day of my life.” Cool to see that he really means it and feels it.
What you see Joe play on stage is, in some respects, an exercise in restraint. Or, if you prefer, taste. Because he literally could play anything, mimic anyone, he wants to. That’s the fruit of what his father says on the DVD is a combination of being gifted and a tremendous work ethic.
I don’t doubt it for a second.
YouTube Joe and you will see that he can play anything – as an interview with him on the tour bus (a DVD extra) demonstrates. It’s fascinating to watch and listen to. And you can clearly see that he’d be happy sitting there and playing if there wasn’t a camera on him. The guy just loves to play and hear the guitar, especially blues-derived guitar.
Feel I should mention: I’ve seen and heard people knock Joe for sounding like Eric Johnson, and I can hear where some of that comes from – his faster passages can sound like EJ – but come on. Why don’t they knock him for sounding like BB King, Clapton, Ray Charles, Albert King, Danny Gatton, country pickers, etc.? And what’s the point?
Joe is Joe, and has the enviable ability to call up any one of – I would say, conservatively – 50 guitar styles at any point in time. Those are called influences – and it’s a literally stunning vocabulary. Bottom line: Joe sounds like Joe.
And Joe’s tone is…I’ve been searching for just one word for it, and I’m going to have to say: sweet. It’s sweet. Not mellow, not dirty, just sweet, as in “right in the sweet spot.” That’s on the DVD: I’ve seen him live a couple times and he lets it out a bit.
Joe is a tone monster – GREAT ears for tone – and like all guitarists also is a gear-head. At the back of the DVD booklet he lists all of the guitars and other gear he used (the cabs are ported Van Weeldens). Gotta love it! Thanks Joe!
Notable: DVD Extras
The concert is two DVDs, and there are two extras on the second disc: a long interview on the tour bus (guitar in hand, plugged into a Marshall Class 5); and a performance of “Woke Up Dreaming” from the concert.
Not sure why “Woke Up Dreaming” was separated out, but it doesn’t matter – just glad it’s there. It’s an all-acoustic tune – way more than a tune, actually. Just him and the guitar, and it really shows off his use of dynamics and tempo, not to mention tremendous finger skills on both hands. (I re-read that: Those are just words…it’s amazing to watch.)
A couple parts almost sound like volume-knob swells – but there’s no volume knob – at least where his right hand was. He got a standing O for that one.
The tour bus interview is just plain fascinating – when he recalls and plays his influences faster than a computer could do it, fingerpicks “Mountain Time” (just his thumb and one finger, mostly!), thumb-whacks the “Woke Up Dreaming” riff super-fast…and more. Just very cool.
> In the intro to the DVD booklet, he only thanks his fans, which is classy. He notes that the RAH performance was the “most scared and happy I’ve ever been in my life” and “very rarely can you watch someone achieve a lifelong goal in digital 5.1 surround sound.”
> Click here to see Joe run through his current guitars, amps and effects.