bonamassa@ The Sage Gateshead, April 22 2009

First a confession – and an apology.

For those whose enjoyment was momentarily interrupted by two lumbering eejits making their way into seats 15 and 16 in the third row two minutes after Joe’s grand entrance, sorry.

But it was all my mate’s fault. You see when the Sage announced JB would be on stage in five minutes, Paul said, with a knowing look: ‘That means 10 minutes.’ And so we continued to sup our Black Sheep. Four minutes later and the tannoy announced the gig would start in one minute, he assured me that meant five. It didn’t!

So it wasn’t the perfect start to the evening and Joe’s decision to close out with an instrumental God Save The Queen made it a rather bizarre ending. But in between, the Sage audience was treated to a concert of quite breathtaking quality. To say that the New York bluesman is an outstanding guitaist is a bit like claiming the Sistine Chapel is ‘a nice piece of artwork.’ It simply doesn’t do justice to a musician whose talents border on genius.

And that’s not journalistic hyperbole because I wasn’t alone in being mesmerised by the range, depth, soul, passion and skills of this precocious 30-year-old. Bonamassa is the 21st century’s new torchbearer for a strand of rock music, usually identified with artists from a bygone era.

The audience, whose age range was largely and disappointingly in the 40-plus bracket, sat transfixed for two hours of virtuoso music from a man who demonstrated astonishing technique on at least five different guitars.

His voice, slightly higher than on record, maybe lacked a little gruffiness during opening songs such as the title track to his new album The Ballad of John Henry and So Many Roads but very quickly improved to demonstrate that JB is a bone-fide blues singer as well as axeman.

One of th early highlights was a mesmerising, acoustic Woke Up Dreaming, played at a scalding tempo on his Spanish  guitar. Yet Bonamassa raised the bar again, layering each subsequent song with lavish doses of emotion-laden licks, notably on the quite beautiful Sloe Gin, and Happier Times, the raunchy Just Got Paid and encores Mountain Time and Asking Around For You..

Dressed in a white suit, black shirt and shades (which only come off for the encores), Joe rarely interacts with the audience, preferring to let his music do the talking. And strangely, there was little feeback in return for the sell-out crowd’s wonderment at his capabilities meant this wasn’t so much a concert as a spiritual appreciation.

Maybe the all-seated venue did affect the atmosphere. Alternatively, if like me, you were frequently left awestruck and open-mouthed at the brilliance of the man, reverence was the overriding emotion of the night.

Ian Murtagh