In the past decade, Joe Bonamassa has been as prolific as any artist in blues rock, or any genre for that matter. Bonamassa has already released two albums this year alone, a duets albums with Beth Hart, Seesaw, as well as An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House. Tour de Force is perhaps Bonamassa’s most ambitious release to date, featuring four live performances on consecutive days in London. The performances include The Borderline, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Hammersmith Apollo, and the Royal Albert Hall, which follow the path of Bonamassa’s career journey as he’s worked his way up performing all the venues. The performances also feature multiple bands and over 60 songs overall.
Joe Bonamassa cut his teeth at The Borderline in London before making his way to Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Hammersmith Apollo, and eventually the Royal Albert Hall. This made it the perfect destination to open Tour de Force, and has Bonamasa performing with a power trio that includes Michael Rhodes on bass and Anton Fig on drums.
The Borderline performance features many songs from earlier in Bonamassa’s career, and songs he doesn’t generally perform often today, such as “I Know Where I Belong,” which kicks off the show. Also appearing from Bonamassa’s A New Day Yesterday album are “Miss You, Hate You” and “Don’t Burn Down That Bridge.” Fans are also treated to a cult favorite with “Pain and Sorrow,” a song which is off So It’s Like That, perhaps one of Bonamassa’s more underrated recordings. “Burning Hell” also makes its way into the set and the show closes with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced,” in what may be the most high energy show of the Tour de Force.
Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Night two at Shepherd’s Bush Empire was the blues night and featured a horns section. The set list consisted mostly of songs from The Ballad of John Henry album through Driving Towards The Daylight. B.B. King’s “Chains & Things” made its way onto the set list, a song which Bonamassa previously recorded for The Ballad Of John Henry, though it did not make the album and was later released as a bonus track on the Japanese version of Black Rock.
Night three features a set list more in line with what we’d see at a Bonamassa show today. The show kicks off with an acoustic set and then moves to electric after five songs. One of the highlights of this performance is the cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Tea For One,” which was featured on the first Kevin Shirley produced Bonamassa album, You & Me. Doug Henthorn joins Bonamassa onstage to sing lead vocals, as he did on the studio version, and the live performance was well worth the wait.
Royal Albert Hall
Night four sees Bonamassa return to the Royal Albert Hall, the venue that helped launch his career to the next level back in 2009. The show kicks off with an eight song acoustic set, and then an electric set after intermission, which begins with “Slow Train.” The Royal Albert Hall performance includes most Bonamassa staples, including “Driving Towards The Daylight,” with Doug Henthorn on backup vocals, an out of this world rendition of “The Ballad of John Henry,” where keyboardist Arlan Schierbaum really shines on the Hammond organ, plus “Mountain Time,” the always mesmerizing “Sloe Gin,” and one of the most raucous renditions to date of “Just Got Paid,” which closes out the show.
Each show on Tour de Force features a bonus disc with additional features, including a four part documentary chronicling Bonamassa’s rise in today’s volatile music business, his partnership with longtime manager Roy Weisman, and their journey to the Tour de Force. There is also a behind the scenes look at each London show and a photo collection of the performances.
When it’s all said and done, Tour de Force lives up to its name and then some. Bonamassa turns in another masterful performance, as do the rest of the musicians featured. There is plenty of material here to keep fans happy while they wait for Bonamassa’s next studio album to be released in 2014.
Review by Pete Francis