Joe Bonamassa at the State Theatre

Last night’s gig was a deep immersion into blues-rock guitar; daunting territory for the timid, but right up my alley. It might be a daggy alley, but at least I know where I’m going.

I’d heard Joe Bonamassa’s name before, but hadn’t investigated what he was about until a work mate – whose love of the blues immediately made me trust his musical taste – said that Joe was his favourite guitarist. I listened to some tracks, was wowed by the six-string wizardry on display, and bought myself a front-row ticket for the State Theatre last night.

Claude Hay

First up was Blue Mountains one-man band Claude Hay, who I think I’ve now seen five times. Claude seems to be the go-to guy to support anything rootsy: he’s opened recently here for Matt Andersen, Great Big Sea, and Seasick Steve. I’m still amazed by his slide guitar, picking, bass, bongo, kickdrum, and looping proficiency. He only got four songs last night, but he gave it his all (and was still as charming as ever).

Joe Bonamassa

And then – right on time, with only a 10-minute interlude, no rock star egos here – Joe Bonamassa came out and his band followed (in dribs and drabs). He started with a handful of acoustic songs. I didn’t find these songs terribly engaging, as they featured a lot of straight strumming; it could have been anyone. And Joe’s lyrics aren’t the star of the show, though his voice is very good. “Dislocated Boy” was OK, but it was only when he hit “Woke Up Dreaming” at the end that he started to show off. But look, as a warm-up it was probably the right thing to do for him and for the crowd.

But when the full electric band kicked off “Slow Train”, followed by “Dust Bowl” I was right where I wanted to be. The fingers were flying, the strings were bending, and Joe Bonamassa – hidden behind his shades until the final bow –  was grimacing with every fret-ripping blur of his hand.

My favourites, beyond those first two songs, were “The Ballad of John Henry” and the final song, ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid”. I didn’t take notes, but I think last night’s setlist matched the Brisbane one pretty closely; I’m sure some super fans can confirm.

Joe Bonamassa delivers full-on power with blinding guitar speed; he plays hard and loud, full-electric blues-rock, just like the British blues wave that he was influenced by. He and his solid backing band often sounded as much like Zeppelin as the old blues masters, and they even blasted us with a healthy doze of “Dazed and Confused” to prove it during “Just Got Paid”. The State Theatre crowd rushed the stage for the encore songs, probably a pretty rare occurrence for that reserved venue.

It’s clear that extensive guitar wankery isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. This music is a holdover from a past age, and I was in the lower percentile of attendee age last night. But Joe Bonamassa is one of the best guitarists I’ve ever seen, and he’s a good showman, a good singer, and a great interpreter of blues-rock. It was six-string glorious enough to deliver, and to probably satisfy my guitar craving for a good long while.

New songs from Claude Hay: listen here

I’ve seen Australian one-man blues band Claude Hay a few times now. I think he’s fabulous: the right mix of genuinely rootsy, funky, funny, nice, and a string and slide virtuoso to boot. He deserves your time; give him a listen below.

Claude has a new album coming out next month. Below are a couple of songs from it. I think these sound great. They amp up the funky groove, which can never be a bad thing. You can learn more about Claude, and download “I Love Hate You” (which is about his touring van, not a love interest) at his website.

People in the UK: Claude is coming your way. There are dates announced for Folkestone, Halstead, and Gillingham, but more will surely follow.

Still got the blues: Claude Hay and Matt Andersen at The Beaches

The other week I saw Aussie one-man blues band Claude Hay and Canadian acoustic blues guitar wizard Matt Andersen. We thought they were good enough to see again, and so Sunday afternoon we drove down the coast.

They played an early evening set at The Beaches, a popular pub in the seaside town of Thirroul. And it was a free show!

They were as good as the first time. Hay’s set was exactly the same, I think, but I’m still amazed at the stomping jams he can create with that loop machine. And I love his bass lines.

Andersen mixed it up a bit more, and we got a couple of crowd-pleasing covers (including “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “People Get Ready”). In fact, the crowd was so pleased they cheered him back for two encores.

As luck would have it, I’ve discovered that I’m going to get to see Andersen yet again before he returns to Canada. I’ve just noticed that he’s going to open for The Beards, another band I can’t get enough of, in Newtown on Wednesday night. And since Andersen is now rocking a beard, that fits perfectly.

Matt Andersen

Claude Hay and Matt Andersen live at the Brass Monkey

We got an early Christmas present from my mom, who tipped us off to the fact that Canadian blues guitar wizard Matt Andersen was touring Australia. So last Thursday we took the train down to Cronulla’s Brass Monkey to see him.

It’s a co-headlining tour of two stringed-instrument masters. First up wasClaude Hay. First impressions were of a stereotypical Blue Mountains muso: tattooed, semi-hippy, happy, and multi-instrumentalist.

Second impressions: a fantastic Louisiana-blues-based one-man-band. Hay played a twin guitar (lead and bass) he made himself, and a tricked-out sitar. He utilised a loop machine to lay down his own backing tracks, then jammed over top. His kick-drum and kazoo and bongo rounded things out. I thought he was fantastic.

With only a few moment’s changeover Andersen got on stage. First impressions: my god, that is a huge man.

Second impressions: wow, that guy is an amazing guitarist and singer. He sits and plays his acoustic six-string alone, with no other accompaniment. There are no effects pedals or backing tracks, just his fretwork frenzy and his massive blues howl. The songs are, to be fair, pretty ordinary, both lyrically and melodically. But the power of the voice from the man, who must be 180 kg, and the speed and passion from the fingers on the strings, are pretty damn impressive.

We’re going to go see Hay and Andersen again next weekend when they play at the Beaches Hotel in Thirroul down the coast. Thanks, mom!