It doesn't feel like all that long ago I was last sat here reviewing a live DVD release from Joe Bonamassa. A quick check reveals it was around September 2016, for his 'Live at the Greek Theatre' show. Time flies! Anyway, here's another, and it's something a little different. Different, but unashamedly retro. Different because Bonamassa eschews airing his own material for a purely covers show. And retro, because it's blues of yore... or, specifically, as it says on the tin, British blues rock, by bands and musicians that have inspired his own artistry over the years. In fact, a short eulogy by famed journo and author, Mick Wall, on the second disc in this set, goes as far to claim that Bonamassa "is the man that keeps that spirit alive; the man that now inhabits the very best of that music; the most raw, the most powerful, the most tender, emotional and spiritual living exponent in the world today." He might just be right. While I tend towards the innovative, parameter pushing blues musicians in my own listening proclivities, I guess it cannot be denied that Bonamassa flies the flag ever so well for nostalgic drenched blues. His passion for genre mimicry of the British blues rock aesthetic from a bygone era is undeniable.
So, then, the concert itself. Filmed at The Old Royal Naval College in London, at an event billed as Greenwich Music Time, on 7th July 2016, the evidently unique setting provides a sense of occasion. And a special occasion is just what this feels like it most probably was, for all the punters who experienced it first-hand, nearly two years ago. The concert film is preceded by credits appearing over some black and white footage, while narration provides a brief history of the British blues scene. Then, it's not long before Bonamassa's out on stage, rocking it out with a string of covers from the likes of Jeff Beck Group; Eric Clapton; Led Zeppelin; John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers; Blind Willie Johnson (a break with the British blues theme here, albeit 'Motherless Children' was covered by Clapton); Cream; and Willie Dixon (again, American in origin, but covered by Led Zep). Everything sounds rather wonderful, as songs are brought to life by some first class musicianship - not just by Bonamassa, but a collective effort from his mightily talented band. It's a fitting tribute to these classic songs. The evidence is here to back Mick Wall's bold assertion. After a little online digging, I believe there was also a cover of Tim Curry's 'Sloe Gin' performed on the night, as an encore, but this is entirely absent from this release. A shame. Maybe it was some sort of licensing issue.
Although this is also getting an HD release on BD (and a double CD), it's only the DVD that's been made available for review. But, and it's a big BUT... for a mere SD presentation of the show, visually, this looks rather remarkable. I can't recall a concert looking so crisp, sharp, vibrant and largely noise-free on just the DVD format. The bit rate on the disc is high enough, of course, within the limits of the medium, but that alone doesn't make for a sharp, vibrant image etc. It's also due to such well thought out lighting and how it's been filmed. So, kudos to the lighting engineer and the director + film crew. I mean, the show starts during daylight, and the day dusks as Bonamassa's set progresses, but when the lighting kicks in good and proper, it does its job ever so well, and has been captured to perfection. All the points I would usually praise a BD for are right here on the DVD. So, rest assured videophiles, this is a good one! Same goes for the audio, too. Two options are selectable from the main menu - a 5.1 mix and a stereo LPCM one. The latter's actually my preferred option here, as it sounds much more vibrant.
The second disc is purely about bonus features (and, still, the Tim Curry cover is inexplicably absent). What we have is the aforementioned eulogy by Wall, in which he also utters, "The show you're about to see...", which means this short piece was originally intended as an intro to precede the main feature on the first disc... but I guess it's been posited here to pad out the sparse second DVD. There's also low-fi footage of Bonamassa performing 'Taxman' at Liverpool's legendary Cavern Club (kind of predictable, albeit apt, performing a track by The Beatles in the venue). There are five minutes of shaky, handheld camera footage of 'Joe Honored with a "Brick in the Wall"' on the Cavern Club Wall of Fame, which looks like it was filmed on a smart phone. And then there's a photo gallery. So, yeah, don't expect too much from this second DVD, although the extras are nice enough. It's a shame an interview with the man himself wasn't featured.
Overall, then, this is a pretty neat release that captures Bonamassa paying homage to the creative genius of those that have influenced his own creativity. Will his name ever be mentioned in the annals of music history with the same eulogistic respect as those he's mimicked? I would suggest not (although I'm sure Wall would disagree), but he's keeping the flame of their music burning well into the twenty first century... as are some of the original guys themselves! Either way, I didn't expect this to be as good as it is. Quite the surprise, it must be said.
BRITISH BLUES EXPLOSION LIVE
Review by Mark Holmes
144:16 (DISC ONE)
18th May 2018
DISC ONE: 1) The British Blues Explosion (Intro); 2) Beck's Bolero/Rice Pudding; 3) Mainline Florida; 4) Boogie with Stu; 5) Let Me Love You Baby; 6) Plynth (Water Down the Drain); 7) Spanish Boots; 8) Double Crossing Time; 9) Motherless Children; 10) Band Introductions; 11) SWLABR; 12) Tea for One/I Can't Quit You Baby; 13) Little Girl; 14) Pretending; 15) Black Winter/Django; 16) How Many More Times; 17) Credits
DISC TWO: Bonus Features
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Bonamassa flies the flag ever so well for nostalgic drenched blues. His passion for genre mimicry of the British blues rock aesthetic from a bygone era is undeniable."