Sunday, November 13, 2016

Joe Bonamassa - Live From The Royal Albert Hall (2009)

1-1. Django
1-2. The Ballad Of John Henry
1-3. So, It's Like That
1-4. Last Kiss
1-5. So Many Roads
1-6. Stop!
1-7. Further On Up The Road
1-8. Woke Up Dreaming
1-9. High Water Everywhere
1-10. Sloe Gin
1-11. Lonesome Road Blues
2-1. Happier Times
2-2. Your Funeral My Trial
2-3. Blues Deluxe
2-4. Story Of A Quarryman
2-5. The Great Flood
2-6. Just Got Paid
2-7. Mountain Time
2-8. Asking Around For You

The theme of this era of Joe's career is making it as an established artist, and this concert is the crystallization of that concept - Joe's first performance at the esteemed Royal Albert Hall in London, proof positive that he had very well and truly "made it". I would actually recommend you get the DVD over the CD, because this is a concert that's more fun to watch than listen to, because the DVD really hammers home the personal significance of this show for Joe, and the road he's taken to get there. And though it may have been, as Joe says, the "greatest night of [his] life" (up to that point), I have to be completely brutal here, because sonically, it's not his best live album.

And I hate to say anything bad about a Joe Bonamassa concert (much less one as monumental as this), because he's a remarkably consistent musician, and even on his "off" days, he still delivers an incredible show, and is heads and shoulders above his competition. And I'm sure this would have been a phenomenal show to have attended (and the DVD gives you a better feel for that), but when you have many different concert recordings to choose from (including another one at the Royal Albert Hall during the fantastic Tour de Force), the merely good inevitably gets passed over for the great. That's just how it goes.

From the very first time I listened to this show, I felt that Joe seemed uncharacteristically nervous, and that it affected his playing. Now, this is completely understandable - being such a landmark show, and having the pressure of performing a song with a lifelong idol and one of his biggest inspirations. But it's like he's trying too hard to put on a good show, when most of his shows seem effortlessly flawless. A lot of the songs sound loose and untamed (but with less of a wild ferocity than an aimless wandering), he pushes his vocals a little harder than they really need to go, and some of the older songs (particularly from the power trio days) suffer from overinstrumentation.

To start with, Eric Clapton's guest spot on Further On Up The Road is a bit anticlimactic. I hate to say that, because I'm sure it meant the world to Joe, but I've always had the opinion that Eric Clapton is a little bit overrated as a guitarist, given how massively influential he was. And in the category of special guests, Paul Jones shows up to play harmonica on Your Funeral My Trial. A lot of the songs heard on Live From Nowhere In Particular are repeated here, and don't necessarily sound any better than they did before. The acoustic powerhouse Woke Up Dreaming has notably been extended a couple more minutes, with an interesting new opening section. And it's great to hear a live version of Blues Deluxe, but though the guitar part sounds fantastic, the rest of the song drowns in the brass and piano accompaniment.

The highlights of this concert, musically speaking, would have to be the new songs from The Ballad of John Henry, heard for the first time live. Among those is, of course, the title track, which is exciting to hear, but it will take some time yet for it to grow into an epic rivaling Joe's other showstoppers such as Mountain Time and Just Got Paid (here pushed back to the end of the concert), and the encore, Asking Around For You, which - itself at ten minutes - is beginning to grow a little unwieldy. The rest constitute the best tracks from the album, including Stop!, Last Kiss, Lonesome Road Blues, Happier Times, and The Great Flood, although many of these are worth waiting for their Tour de Force versions. I know it probably doesn't sound like it from my review, but this is by no means a bad album. (And I still recommend the DVD). It's just that there are better ones out there, and I don't listen to this one as frequently.

Rating: 💿💿 Occasional Spin

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