Live From The Royal Albert Hall (DVD)
Review by Nightwatcher
Once upon a time there was a four year old boy. And that boy had a dream. It was a dream unlike most boys have at that age, for this was not a dream of growing up to be a fireman, police officer, or any other dream typical of such a young child. This child's unique dream, inspired by seeing video of the farewell concert of Cream, was to be a guitarist - and to play London's prestigious Royal Albert Hall.
On May 4th of this year, that dream was finally realized as blues rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa - after 20 years of playing professionally since the age of 12, working his way up from playing sleazy dives and tiny blues clubs in the middle of nowhere in particular, relentlessly touring throughout the United States, Canada and Europe - stepped on the stage triumphantly in front of a sold out crowd at the historic venue,
It's this triumphant concert which is chronicled on the DVD 'Live From The Royal Albert Hall'. Commencing with shots of a slightly nervous Bonamassa warming up before hitting the stage, interspersed with interviews with family members who had naturally crossed over the big pond to witness a day self described as being "truly larger than the sum of its parts" and "the best day of his life" by the Utica, New York born musician, the set begins with a stirring version of the instrumental "Django" and never looks back.
Featuring a set list understandably heavy with material from his newest studio album 'The Ballad Of John Henry, there's still quite enough from his back catalog to serve as a great introduction to past work. Along the way we have the "Kashmir" meets the delta blues of "The Ballad Of John Henry", the blues shuffle "So, It's Like That" (replete with a horn section for the first time in a live situation), a minor blues via a stunning version of Otis Rush's classic "So Many Roads", the swampy "High Water Everywhere"(Quite effective with its utilization of two drummers for the occasion, the second being Anton Fig of "David Letterman" fame), and rounding out the first disc is a smoldering rendition of "Sloe Gin", the title track from Bonamassa's 2007 studio release which brings the proceedings to the intermission on yet another high note. If this were only a single disc, already it would be a success. But wait! There's more!
After beginning the second disc with a reminiscence of how he met King Of The Blues B.B. King at the age of 12, Bonamassa launches into a song that he wrote when he was 18, "Lonesome Road Blues". Although he only recently rediscovered the track via an old DAT, the song works in its modern incarnation perfectly alongside compositions of more recent vintage. "Happier Times" a song born from one of the worst periods in his life following a breakup, stuns with its honesty. Laying his soul out in the open in the lyrics, this is the most personal of perhaps all the songs he has written, and ranks certainly among his very best.
After another guest spot by former Manfred Mann vocalist Paul Jones, one of the guitarist's most ardent U. K. supporters, lending blues harp to Sonny Boy Williamson's "Your Funeral, My Trial" and a grinding take on the Jeff Beck Group classic "Blues Deluxe", the assembled multitude are treated to yet another pair of original offerings "Story Of A Quarryman" and the "The Great Flood", all leading up to the trifecta knock down punch of ZZ Top's "Just Got Paid"(featuring the excerpt from Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused, complete with Theramin), the epic "Mountain Time" and ensuring a splendid time is guaranteed for all, the soulful, Ray Charles influenced "Asking Around For You".
Such are the strength of the original compositions that even without a special guest appearance by Eric Clapton, who trades licks with Bonamassa on the Bobby "Blue" Bland classic "Further On Up The Road" this would be a fantastic performance. However with Eric coming onboard, it does signify a passing of the blues rock torch symbolically. For just as the pioneering British guitar legend took the blues in uncharted directions in the 60's, Joe has the talent to do so in the next decade.
Only 32, with a willingness to experiment and deviate from what's considered sacred in the blues canon, and a desire not to repeat himself, it would seem that artistically it's still an open book for him, and it will be intriguing to see where he goes in the next decade. In an interesting side note, the next time the song was played by Bonamassa and band with a guest performer it was at the Mile High Blues Festival in Denver, with young up and coming guitarist Ryan McGarvey. One of the leading proponents of young players who are now being influenced by the musician, his endorsement and patronage of fledgling guitar stars is continuing the blues lineage even further on up the road, if you will.
As fantastic as Bonamassa's guitar work and vocals are, it would be extremely remiss to not give notice to the other members of the band. For without bassist Carmine Rojas and drummer Bogie Bowles this would be a one man band first of all. Secondly, over the past several years of almost non stop touring, these two have meshed into one of the finest rhythm sections in all of rock or blues, interlocking and forming a rock solid foundation over which the guitarist can shine. Add in keyboardist Rick Melick and you have an extremely potent combo indeed. The addition of Melick it has allowed him to breathe a bit, musically speaking. No longer does he have to fill all the space with his playing, resulting in when he does launch into a solo it's more focused and therefore even more effective.
Beautifully filmed by Scott McFadyen and Sam Dunn, who are also responsible for the recently released critically acclaimed 'Iron Maiden: Flight 666' documentary and 2005's 'Metal: A Headbanger's Journey'. this isn't your usual blues presentation, and is all the better for it. Used to the high energy world of metal, the pair have succeeded in capturing Bonamassa's incendiary performance perfectly, infusing it with vitality on par with the execution of musicianship. As such blues purists will probably hate this, but it's a situation he's had to deal with from the very start, and won't come as a surprise this time around as well.
Audio -wise, this absolutely shines. Recorded and mixed by über producer Kevin Shirley, whose guiding hand has been an integral part of getting Bonamassa to the level he is at today during the past half decade, he has accurately captured the true essence of this live performance. Drawing on his expertise throughout the years working with Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Iron Maiden and countless others, the mix conveys the excitement of what it's like to see the guitarist live.
In terms of of bonus features, what you get here is an extended interview with Bonamassa, where he goes into details regarding why and how the songs were chosen, and also what they mean to him. In lieu of a full commentary track, this works quite well. In all actuality, not many would listen to a commentary more than once anyway (if that in many cases), so to have something of this nature in interview form outside of the main program is a wise choice.
Also included is a bonus performance of the acoustic guitar extravaganza "Woke Up Dreaming", during which the guitarist demonstrates once again his prodigious talents aren't only contained in the blues rock genre, but extend to any genre. Having seen him play anything from heavy rock, jazz to fleet fingered workouts such as this on many occasions, it's quite clear that not only is he one of the top blues guitarists ever, but one must rank him amongst the finest ever to pick up the instrument. The fact that he brings such technique to the blues, in lesser hands, could be a disaster. But Bonamassa has tempered his fretwork to a degree where he never overplays. While not as wild as his earlier live offerings in terms of notes played, there's still more than enough blues guitar pyrotechnics lighting up the stage, soaring as high as fireworks on the 4th of July (Or Guy Fawkes Day, if you reside in the U.K.).
The two discs of this DVD are a stunning encapsulation of all of the elements which have combined musically to bring Bonamassa to this point in his career. Hands down the most exciting performer to come along in the blues field in decades, the guitarist stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. First rate all the way - unquestionably the guitar DVD of the year, once again he's raising the bar for how the blues can be presented.
With the holidays upon us, if you're looking for an excellent gift for that someone who loves blues, rock or exceptional guitar playing, if you haven't already, grab this one as you can't go wrong. To purchase go to this location.