Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto
The ticket said 8pm sharp and sure enough, at 7:58 the house lights went out and the theme music from Bonanza rang out, followed by the voice of Paul Jones “of the British Broadcasting Corporation” ushering Joe and his band onstage.
The band rip into “King Bee Shakedown”, the first of several songs from Joe’s new album “Redemption”. It’s the only song on which Joe plays a Strat, and his finger picking is something to behold live and (fairly) up close. The sound is possibly the best I’ve ever heard live; there are Joe and 7 others on stage and everyone / everything is crystal clear. There’s no pause before Anton Fig swings into the drum intro to “Evil Mama” – a total steal from the opening to Led Zep’s “Rock n Roll”.
Joe has assembled a tight, heavy hitting band. Alongside Fig (longtime drummer in David Letterman’s Tonight Show house band), ex SRV & Double Trouble member Reese Wynans plays keyboards whilst Michael Rhodes (who has played with everyone from Dolly Parton and Elton John through to Buddy Guy and Brian Wilson) provides the bottom end and a distinctly ghoulish aura. Swing and polish are provided by Paulie Cerra on sax, Lee Thornburg on trumpet plus Jade MacRae and Mahalia Barnes on vocal and syncopated dance steps.
“Just Cos You Can” sees Joe take his first extended solo and it’s clear that’s what the crowd have come for. “Self Inflicted Wounds” from “Redemption” follows and as enjoyable as it is, I find myself hoping Joe will set aside some of the swing and sparkle and dip into his back catalogue for something harder. And as luck would have it, for the second half of the show, that’s pretty much what he does, starting with a sublime “Slow Train” from the “Dust Bowl” album, allowing Joe to stretch out a little alongside some stunning vocals from MacRae and Barnes as well as Cerra. The Flying V is broken out for “Boogie With Stu” before we get the full power trio treatment on “How Many More Times” which morphs into Free’s “The Hunter” before switching back again to close the set with a sonic flourish.
Returning for the encore Joe jokes that he spent the whole 2 minute break pondering (a) who would play him in his own biopic (Jeff Bridges – although I think Woody Harrelson is more a lookalike) and (b) imagining the crowd were hoping “he would just play something they fucking knew”. Which led us to “Sloe Gin” – rather than “Mainline Florida” as I had hoped.
In a perfect world there would have been a bit more from the “Blues Deluxe” era but given what he packed into a 2 hour set, it was a first class JB showcase.
Mostly old farts like me, but not exclusively. Not 100% sold out but pretty close, and this was the second night.
It made me think..
All gigs should be like this. Prompt start at 8pm, pin sharp sound and a crowd happy to watch and listen.