Live review: Joe Bonamassa/Enmore Theatre May 2011

Posted: January 9, 2012 in Music gig review: rock
Tags: , , ,

It happened so quickly. We were sitting in the Enmore, soaking up the fine old world atmosphere of this great Sydney venue, when the polite PA music suddenly became a pair of cranked DIO tracks, the lights went down and there was Joe Bonamassa, riffing on his Les Paul as if risen from the stage. No announcement, no fanfare, no rah rah. Straight into it.

And he didn’t let up for half a dozen more numbers. Bonamassa doesn’t talk much, One piece goes right into the next. Wham bam. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t a flow to it – the hard riffing opener, ‘Cradle Rock’, fed neatly into the next, ‘So Many Roads’, a cool and slow minor key blues. His crack band – a seasoned and hardened rock four piece – was onto it every step of the way, rising and falling with the guitarist through a widescreen display of dynamics. It was a treat to hear live treatments of ‘Slow Train’ as well as the title track from his latest album, Dust Bowl.

When he finally did speak to us – we, the by now enraptured audience – he was surprisingly charming, even funny. The superhero that Bonamassa has evolved into – wrapped shades, slick hair, suits and guitar hero thrown shapes – can be daunting and sometimes a little at odds with the blood, sweat and tears of his playing. But he told a story of a journalist calling him with the news that riff on his song ‘Ballad of John Henry’ had been voted  number 10 in some list of the ten best riffs of the century – it was funny and showed wit behind the shades.

He didn’t speak again until he introduced Cold Chisel’s Ian Moss, inviting him up for a jam. They worked through Eric Clapton’s ‘Further on Up the Road’ and The Jeff Beck Group’s ‘Blues Deluxe’ – the latter enlivened by Sydney born (!) keyboardist Rick Mellick’s perfect Nicky Hopkins blues piano stylings. Moss, a great player, seemed to have his sound engulfed by Bonamassa’s voracious tone at times, but there were flashes of real fire.

After a short display of solo acoustic guitar wizardry – during which you could almost hear jaws dropping all around – the band returned to ride with Bonamassa through The Who’s take on the Mose Allison song ‘Young Man Blues’. They took this Live at Leeds warhorse to some wild places, the rhythm section of Carmine Rojas and drummer Tal Bergman matching the original Keith Moon/John Entwhistle joyride in every way.

Despite all of his music’s references to 1970s British blues-rock, Joe Bonamassa’s playing is a thoroughly contemporary take on the blues. There are lines in his solos that could only exist in the canon of rock guitar post-Eddie Van Halen and only after the shredding innovations of NWOBHM. To hear Bonamassa complete a metal-style shred line with a single glowing howled note a la Free’s Paul Kossoff is to be wrenched back and forth through 30 years of rock guitar – albeit in the most delicious and thrilling way.

By the time he finished with ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’ – interspersed liberally with Led Zeppelin’s ‘Dazed and Confused’ – the superhero’s shades were dripping, his hair was mussed and his pale gray jacket was soaked in sweat. But he seemed twice as tall and definitely larger than life. Joe Bonamassa had conquered us all.

Published May 2011 on


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