The Crown Prince of Blues guitar finds a voice that Rocks!
Joe Bonamassa is undoubtedly one of the finest guitarists I’ve ever heard, but his choice of material and lengthy guitar solos had always left me cold until I heard the See Saw album he recorded with Beth Hart a year or so ago.
On that album, Bonamassa relegates himself to the shadows. On this live recording at Amsterdam’s Koninklijk Theatre, Ms Hart revels in her femme fatale role in the spotlight.
The DVD opens with Beth Hart belting out Amsterdam/Amsterdam over the credits that feature every cliché from a windmill to the Red Light District; but of course that just puts the concert into perspective. Opening track, the swing classic "Them There Eyes", showcases the band, which is as tight as a ducks backside, before Beth Hart sashays onto the stage wearing a figure-hugging leather dress and a smile that could light up New York.
As that ends, Bonamassa changes guitars and, without skipping a beat, they cut straight into a slow and dirty version of "Sinner's Prayer" which showcases Hart’s vocal versatility as much as Bonamassa’s guitar virtuosity.
After five or six songs, it becomes patently obvious that the band may be Joe Bonamassa’s but the stage belongs to Beth Hart. She arrogantly struts around like a cross between a female Sugar Ray Leonard and a young Mick Jagger, never once looking at the guitarist for direction. This allows the be-suited blues boy to do what he does best: play the electric guitar better than almost anyone else in the 21st Century.
Unlike her solo concerts, there is very little chat between songs (none at all on the CD) but for once it doesn’t make a difference. This is a show par excellence, and songs like the broody "Close to My Fire" and "Baddest Blues" surpass previous recordings.
CD1 ends with Bonamassa taking lead vocals on "Someday After a While (You’ll be Sorry)" but, while his guitar playing is exemplary, sadly his voice pales into insignificance when compared to Beth Hart’s previous 11 songs.
When the First Lady of the Blues comes back onto the stage, she cajoles the audience to get onto their feet for a joyous "Well, Well" which features Joe on harmonies.
Bonamassa notoriously ‘never breaks into a sweat’ but Ms Hart is incredibly brave here, because she puts her heart and lungs into every song. Several close-ups reveal her hair sticking to her face and beads of salty water dripping from her nose and chin. While many of her contempories would have demanded these scenes be edited out... hey – this is the Blues, baby. We shouldn’t expect anything less.
Highlights? "Chocolate Jesus" is wonderful. "See Saw" rocks like a stricken yacht and, while Beth has always suffered comparisons with Tina Turner, together with JB’s mesmerising guitar licks, she makes "Nutbush City Limits" a real low-down dirty blues stomp tonight. Her interpretation of "Strange Fruit", coupled with Bonamassa’s spine-tingling Telecaster, will surely go down as one of the finest ever versions.
Bonamassa shows why he is probably the current number 1 guitarist in the World at the moment but, and this what I like best, he observes the adage ‘less is more’, allowing Hart to shine as a singer and interpreter. He only uses his majestic guitar playing to highlight her voice and fill in the gaps – many could learn from this.
The concert ends with another brave choice of song, "I’d Rather Go Blind", and again the dynamic duo pull it off with great aplomb and class.
That’s where the CD ends; but DVD buyers receive a second disc of sound checks, behind-the-scenes bits and pieces, exclusive interviews and a general tour video. Watching the crew empty the wagons and set up the stage is simply mind boggling.
The funniest bit for me is seeing how at ease the guitarist is in front of the cameras, even the ones following him everywhere. At one stage (10 minutes before a huge show), as they prepare for a photo shoot, Beth looks like she could explode and breathlessly says to Joe; “I’m excited. Are you excited?” He takes a second to consider the question and the hardest working man in showbiz deadpans, “Yeh; I’m excited.” But he doesn’t sound it. He must have been in this position a thousand times since his early teens, whereas Beth has worked her way here after playing every dive and bar this side of the Ganges and looks like she still can’t believe her luck.
All in all, the CD is a good record of an excellent concert; but the DVD is a great package and will appeal equally to Bonamassa’s legions of devotees as it will be to fans who want to see two great musicians at the very top of their game.
Released 24th March 2014