Joe Bonamassa, The Borderline, London

3.00

 

"Thank you for sticking with me all these years," the 35-year-old bluesman acknowledges to his loyal fans before the encore. Occasionally, however, it was a bit of a struggle "sticking" with this two-hour encounter.

The gifted guitarist was a child prodigy who by the age of 10 was being heralded by the likes of BB King who announced "This kid’s potential is unbelievable. He hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface. He’s one of a kind.” Quite a lot of pressure then, but Joe Bonamassa has delivered with 13 solo albums, the latest of which, Driving Towards The Daylight, debuted at No 2 in the UK charts, and has memorably duetted with Eric Clapton at a barnstorming 2009 gig at the Albert Hall.

Tonight the dapper New Yorker, who is sporting David Caruso-style shades, delivers a noodle-fest of mid-tempo, 12-bar blues in front of a gently nodding, predominantly male crowd (approximately 95% man), most of whom are attentively studying Bonamassa's guitar licks. It's an exceptionally intimate performance, which is being filmed in front of 200 people, and it's the first and smallest of four consecutive London performances, culminating at the Royal Albert Hall.

The axe man has often proclaimed his love of English bluesmen - the likes of Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck (he covers "Spanish Boots" here), Clapton, John Mayall - more than American exponents such as Buddy Guy and Robert Cray. Blues that are more glum in Godalming than wading through the muddy waters of the Mississippi Delta perhaps. However, that's not quite right, as Bonamassa, with his aggressive, choppy guitar style, can be a curious blend of Anglo and American styles. He can even embrace the unruly pastoral folk of Jethro Tull, and we could have down with a bit more Tull here.

The highlights arrive much later  in the set with his break-up track "Miss You/Hate You", a song he wrote "about his first serious girlfriend" and which evokes John Cougar Mellencamp and mid-1980s Bruce Hornsby. The taciturn performer follows it up with the stupendous "The River" (on which he laments "Down by the river/ That's where I broke down and cried"), a robust blues stomp.

Quite often this felt like the sort of standard blues you'd hear in any Chicago bar on a Tuesday night. However, his devotees hang on his every chord and Bonamassa's vocals are, for the most part, beefy and compelling. One suspects that everything will be finely honed by the time he arrives at the Albert Hall.

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