Turning the Royal Albert Hall into the house of the blues is no mean feat, especially if your first gig in London drew 60 people at the Borderline some five years previously. Yes, the rise and rise of Joe Bonamassa has been inexorable, from the first time he showed his 12-year-old guitar-playing chops to B B King, through to opening for the likes of Buddy Guy and Greg Allman. Drawing his influences more from the British blues of Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page – and some of the raw power of Rory Gallagher – his first album came out in 2000. 2007's excellent Sloe Gin, his lucky seventh, made it into the album charts, and he was voted Best Blues Guitarist by the readers of Guitar Player magazine.
This year's epic The Ballad of John Henry brought him wider acclaim, Radio 2 support and a fuse-melting performance on Later... with Jools Holland. "The greatest honour of my life is to play this building," he roars to a sold-out Royal Albert Hall, his working man's plaid shirt and straggly hair exchanged for a short back and sides, black suit and Dr Strangelove sunglasses.
A subdued opening instrumental crashes into an industrial-strength version of "The Ballad of John Henry", and then comes the roadhouse blues of "So, It's Like That". The song sports a structure that sounds as old as the hills, yet Bonamassa adorns it with solos freshly squeezed from the source.
He pauses in his tracks after the thick, slow blues of "Stop!" to introduce Eric Clapton to the stage – knowing, of course, Slow Hand's long tradition of Albert Hall residencies as well as the Hall's iconic blues–rock associations (Cream's farewell gig for starters). Clapton is greeted like a god, and on a thrilling reading of "Further On Up the Road", the two exchange solos, Bonamassa's quicksilver fluidity matched by Clapton's inimitable power-playing.
It's one of a triumphant night's highlights. A fitfully showy acoustic set – recalling the acoustic metal of Rodrigo y Gabriela – is followed by a strong reading of "Sloe Gin", with its hazy guitar redolent of some early-hours joint where the drink's run out and the prescription drugs are kicking in.
By the closing ferocity of "Just Got Paid", after which Bonamassa thanks London for giving him "the best night of my life", you can tell that something has been affirmed tonight; the man has arrived, and there's no turning back.Reuse content