Joe Bonamassa @ Capital FM Arena, Nottingham – 25 October 2015

Joe Bonamassa’s career began onstage opening for B.B. King in 1989, when he was only 12 years old. Today, he is hailed worldwide as one of the greatest guitar players of his generation, and the UK is lucky enough to have him back for an 8 date arena tour.

It’s hard to think of a recent time when the Joe Bonamassa machine hasn’t been active. In the last twelve months alone there’s been the release of ‘Live at Radio City Music Hall’ and ‘Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks’, these two live offerings further to his critically acclaimed 2014 studio album ‘Different Shades of Blue’. This is my fifth live experience with the man – last time out was Birmingham in 2013 – I said then it was the best I’d ever seen him, so tonight has a lot to live up to. I’m graced with the set-list pre-show and it does appear to be a far more bluesier affair, but no doubt the difference in the collection of songs – mostly covers – will not hinder the enjoyment.

As the house lights go down a voice announces: “Unfortunately tonight’s One Direction Concert has been cancelled, so in their place please welcome, Joe Bonamassa.” Nothing like creating an air of fun before taking to the stage, and when he does, the reception is tremendously warm and inviting. It’s a trio of “King” covers to get us underway. Freddie’s ‘See See Baby’, B.B.’s ‘Never Make Your Move Too Soon’ and ‘Angel Of Mercy’ by Albert King. In his trade mark suit and sunglasses, Bonamassa interprets these songs as only he can, making them virually his own with an exquisite, scorching intensity. Following on are the intro tracks from the ‘Different Shades of Blue’ album – ‘Oh Beautiful’ after the brief instrumental Hendrix cover ‘Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)’.

The Joe Bonamassa band is full of class. With his long-time friend Michael Rhodes on bass is “The Thunder from Down Under” Anton Fig, the South African/American session drummer, noted for his work in David Letterman’s house band. On keyboards there is Reese Wynans a member of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble, and the NY brass section of Lee Thornburg on trumpet and Paulie Cerra on saxophone. Between them filling the performance with vibrant musical expression and coloring Joe’s music to its greatest potential.

On with his own ‘Happier Times’ and ‘Trouble Town’ Joe eventually takes a break after Freddie King’s ‘Going Down’ to talk about his previous visits to Nottingham over the past decade. Starting with The Running Horse, the venue he’d visited earlier today and where he’d played to 150 people 10 years ago. He’s certainly come a long way to be playing a sold-out Capital FM Arena tonight, albeit the intimate 3,000 seat variation.

Another half a dozen mesmerising tunes complete the main set, including ‘Gave Up Everything For You’, ‘Love Ain’t A Love Song’ and the Otis Rush cover ‘Double Trouble’. The Bonamassa standards of the Tim Curry cover ‘Sloe Gin’ and ‘The Ballad Of John Henry’ leave the Nottingham audience on their feet and pleading for more.

The band appear back on stage to bring a wonderful two hour spectacular to an end with a stomping cover of Jeff Beck’s ‘Spanish Boots’ and the Muddy Waters classic ‘All Aboard’. With the audience back on their feet, Bonamassa bids farewell to Nottingham, with every individual in the place almost guaranteed to be back again the next time, for another stunning performance.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston

Joe Bonamassa