Caught live: Joe Bonamassa – Tal Bergman on drums

Where: Hammersmith Odeon, London When: Thursday 28 March 2013
Words: Andy Hughes   Images: Christie Goodwin

Tal Bergman’s CV makes enviable reading. His pop, rock, and R&B credentials are impeccable – he has toured and recorded with artists as diverse as Billy Idol, Simple Minds, Herb Albert, and LL Cool J and his last major project was as associate producer and drummer on the Grammy- nominated American Songbook album from Rod Stewart.

But tonight Bergman is showing a new line in his drumming library – blues – as he arrives once again in the touring band of blues legend Joe Bonamassa.

Never one to fire all his guns at once, Bonamassa starts his sold-out show with some laid-back acoustic guitar blues – including Bergman stage-front on tabla. It takes a particular musical skill to play percussion: not all percussionists are good kit players, and vice versa.

Bergman, needless to say, has both disciplines totally nailed and he demonstrates the subtle art of the percussionist by adding lights and shades, gently pushing and pulling the timing and rhythm that Bonamassa sits on to weave his delta blues magic.

JB Blackpool 79

When the full band join in, and Bergman sits behind his visually spectacular Sonor kit (colour tinting courtesy of the Porsche motor company, no less) and shows his mastery of blues drumming. Playing the blues is unique for a drummer. Flash and histrionic playing is redundant here: no arm flailing, no funny faces, no hitting everything at three hundred miles an hour. What is required is the ability to swing – and you either have it, or you don’t, because it is born with you. As the band slide their way into ‘Dust Bowl’, the title track of Bonamassa’s 2011 album, Bergman demonstrates the unique skills needed to anchor a blues band. His sounds sit perfectly behind the band, his cymbal accents and tom fills enhance the guitar sound, and his snare chops underline the vocal phrasing but never intrude or take over. It’s about driving the band from the engine room, and doing it at this level comes from years of experience and dedication.

For ‘Who’s Been Talking’ Bergman’s crisp kick-drum beats bubble under the organ and bass, always there, never intrusive. As the band glide into ‘Tom Waits’ Jockey Full Of Bourbon’, percussion legend (and he really is a legend!) Lenny Castro joins in, adding his own aural magic to a concert that has been building into something very special since the start and is now turning into the home straight.

Another album title track, ‘The Ballad of John Henry’, is next and any players in the audience who have been focusing on Bergman’s playing will have by now realised that his bucket of grooves and fills is bottomless; it honestly feels as though he has never played the same fill twice throughout the evening. For ‘Sloe Gin’, the Bonamassa signature song, Joe waves his hand over a Theremin, producing long, swooping, eerie swampy sounds and Bergman matches him with tom beats that slowly but surely push the tempo and the atmosphere a little higher with each passing minute.

Blasting out ‘Just Got Paid’ as the final piece in a magnificent example of top-level playing, it’s easy to see why Tal Bergman says that after each of these concerts, he knows he has played. Anyone who knows anything about drums, and a fair few who don’t, knows he has played as well.

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