Joe Bonamassa, Shaun Kirk

Joe Bonamassa, Shaun Kirk
Palais Theatre | 11 October 2012

“Hey Shaun, you rock!” certainly isn’t the worst thing to have yelled at you if you are a support act, and Shaun Kirk takes it in his stride. His one-man show is a loud and bluesy affair and the crowd loves it. Kirk gives a solid performance of gutsy, standard blues tunes, occasionally punctuated by a throaty, high-pitched scream, which, when unleashed, prompts an overzealous admirer to let loose in response with a truly eardrum-piercing wolf whistle. Kirk’s skills playing percussion with his feet while singing and strumming guitar are fun to watch.

Joe Bonamassa arrives on stage dressed super-cool and handsome all in black, launching into an acoustic guitar solo after simply drawling, “Good evening”. His cover of Bad Company’s melancholy track, Seagull, from his album, Sloe Gin, stands out as an odd choice to play at the start of the night: the crowd shifts and attention wanders. This is soon remedied by the rock swagger of Dislocated Boy, accompanied by wicked percussionist/drummer Tal Bergman, who lets loose on bongos with whirring hands blurred by fantastic speed.

Driving Towards The Daylight deserves a place beside the best of ’80s candle-waving rock anthems; it is beautiful, driven by Bonamassa’s plaintive, strong vocals. His fingers dance through the phenomenal tempo of Woke Up Dreaming before welcoming bassist Carmine Rojas and Australian keyboardist Rick Melick to the stage along with Bergman, who now sits behind a superbly dense-sounding drum kit. The massive wall of sound that is Slow Train chugs with joyous fury before a grooving Dust Bowl mellows the pace. The light and shade of the musical dynamics are playful, keeping the audience enraptured, and Bonamassa makes his many Gibson guitars sing. His dexterous digits produce different voices: first a wail, the next instant a miry mewl.

“This is probably the closest I’ve had to a hit,” Bonamassa says wryly when introducing The Ballad Of John Henry. This gives us a sense that Bonamassa’s a true artist: laconic about fame yet perhaps also wanting a seminal hit to be remembered forever. He stands downstage left, legs spread – his body holding up the weight of all his influences.

Bonamassa has toned and shaped every element of his performance to such a degree that even audiences outside of his older, devoted blues fanbase would love this stuff, the heavy rock riff of The Ballad Of John Henry capable of shredding the socks off any Soundgarden fan. To call Bonamassa just ‘blues rock’ is too simple: his voice is soulful and longing, his technical proficiency awe-inspiring. Hearing him play live breathes a life, which the recordings sometimes lack, into both his covers and self-penned tracks. He is not only a master of the guitar technically, but also an all-round act: a singing monster guitarist who’s busy paving his own way while tipping his hat to the pantheon of blues greats.

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