Joe Bonamassa @ Utilita Arena, Birmingham – 14 May 2023

The Utilita Arena plays host to Joe Bonamassa, who returns to Birmingham for the first time in five years, for the last of his current UK headline dates.

This tour has promised songs from JB’s 15th solo studio album ‘Time Clocks’, his Grammy Award-nominated ‘Royal Tea’, plus classic tracks from his rich treasure trove back catalogue. So, it’s no surprise to find myself in an electric atmosphere, amongst eager fans awaiting the arrival of the blues rock icon.

With Lemar Carter’s ferocious drum intro and Calvin Turner’s grooving bass line to follow, it’s a strapping and attention grabbing ‘Evil Mama’, from the 2018 album ‘Redemption’ to get us underway. Bonamassa is in fine voice and commands the stage with confidence and precision, captivating the audience with his undeniable passion for the blues.

Next up is the driving and ever so classic rock sounding ‘Dust Bowl’. With it’s diverse melody and contemporary sound, Bonamassa enthrals his fans with some scorching and spine shivering sections. As with all his live performances, he is backed remarkably well with the additional talents of Reece Wynans on keyboards, guitarist Josh Smith and backing vocalists Jade MacRae and Danielle De Andrea.

Every track in tonight’s varied set is a testament to Bonamassa’s mastery, incorporating elements of blues, rock and soul to create a sound that is uniquely his own. From the beautiful and intimate ‘Self-Inflicted Wounds’ (with a truly captivating vocal from Jade MacRae), to the high-energy ‘Didn’t Think She Would Do It’, he delivers song after song, brimming with melody and highlighted with soaring solos.

The standard suit and shades always adds another layer of grandeur to the Bonamassa performance. When slinging on his Stratocaster, Les Paul, Semi-acoustic or Flying V, you realise what an iconic aesthetic this is. After introducing his band and paying respects to his crew, the modern day guitar legend, leads front and centre through ‘Conversation with Alice’ and ‘The Heart That Never Waits’.

The final offering is a blistering, extended version of ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’, which includes a long instrumental sectio,n and a drum solo from Lamar Carter. It briefly segues into Zeppelin’s ‘Dazed and Confused’, for an extraordinary ending to a magnificent show which leaves the Birmingham crowd roaring in appreciation.

Returning for a rendition of the powerful epic ‘Sloe Gin’, there’s no escaping the fact that JoBo’s signature style, vocal performance and guitar work elevate it to new heights. While the original remains a masterpiece, I think the crowd leaving the arena tonight – to Irving Berlin’s ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’ – certainly believe he owns it.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston

Joe Bonamassa