@ Newcastle Metro Radio Arena, March 25 2012
How do you measure musical greatness?
Size of audience? Well, Joe Bonamassa may have outgrown the Carling Academy, The Sage and Newcastle City Hall but the Metro Arena was still well short of its capacity.
Record sales perhaps? As Joe ruefully said himself, he’s recorded more than 140 songs without producing a hit and guarantees that when his 12th album in as many years is released in June, there won’t be a hit on it.
But if crowd reaction is the criteria, then JB is well on his way to legendary status.
I’m not talking about the bland fan worship of a Take That gig or even the testosterone-fuelled excitement that takes over whenever AC/DC hit town.
Attending a Bonamassa offers a kaleidescope of pleasures and offers one indisputable fact – that you’re in the presence of genius.
Don’t just accept my word. Take my two companions for instance. One, a late JB convert, had high hopes having been won over by the New Yorker’s Live At The Royal Albert Hall recording. His verdict: “I knew it would be good, but not THAT good.”
Another verdict was just as drooling. Tony attends hundreds of concerts every year and has seen JB many times yet this one he insisted was one of his best. Quite a plaudit since this particular judge much prefers more intimate settings than spacious auditoriums.
Perhaps the most telling reaction came from the gentleman in the row in front of me, a certain Don Airey, once of Rainbow, now Deep Purple’s keyboardist.
Teessider Airey has played hundreds of times with Richie Blackmore, widely regarded as one of the word’s finest guitarists yet here he was, sitting spellbound, literally in awe of what his eyes and ears were telling him.
He was in good company for even experienced concert-goers sit gawping and mesmerised by the talent of this 34-year-old.
Though the Arena was in truncated form on Sunday night, Joe and his band successfully created an environment which made the music feel cosier, more personal.
They did manage to catch latecomers out, however. The 7.30pm start meant many missed the chugging, romping Slow Train off last year’s Dust Bowl with many still taking their seats as Bonamass ripped into Last Kiss.
Thankfully, everyone was in place for one of the night’s highlights Midnight Blues, his own personal tribute to the late Gary Moore, a song which brought the first loud ovation of the 140 minute set.
Bonamassa has that ability to ride a herd of buffalo through a building yet within seconds to slow the pace down to such an extent you could almost hear a pin drop.
No song better illustrates that versatility than his signature Mountain Time as he demonstrates the dexterity of an Eddie Van Halen with the feel of David Gilmour.
Bonamassa, who played Paul Kossoff’s Les Paul on Ballad of John Henry, used at least seven more guitars throughout the evening and while Sloe Gin was an inevitable crowd favourite, nothing delivered louder applause than Woke Up Dreaming when he played classical guitar quite magically.
His voice has improved over the years too with Bonamassa showing off his tonsils during a thumping Blues Deluxe.
He was alone on stage for Woke Up Dreaming but his band provide a supreme bedrock. Bassist and keyboardist Carmine Rojas and Rick Melick have been with JB so long that there’s telepathy between the three of them.
The introduction of showpleasing drummer Tal Bergman makes this a quartet of formidable power and cohesian and the interraction between strummer and skin-beater during Young Man Blues was one of the night’s undoubted highlights.
One personal disappointment was the omission of Leonard Cohen’s enchanting Bird On A Wire, dropped in favour of Driving Toward Daylight, title track of his forthcoming album, given it’s second-ever airing as first encore ahead of the Zeppelin-esque Just Got Paid when Joe plays the part of a heavy metal hero.
The new song is catchy and distinctly commercial and could even prove that Joe Bonamassa isn’t yet infallible. Perhaps he does have a hit on his hands after all!