Words & photos by David Pickles
So, here I am on a Monday night queuing in the rain for a band that I saw the night before. Am I mad? Well that’s a maybe, but this is Smith/Kotzen in a small intimate venue that holds only an audience of around four hundred. In fact, the tour bus that is parked outside looks bigger than the room they are going to be playing in. This is the second night of their UK tour, the first being at their sold out show in Manchester at the nine hundred and fifty capacity Academy. So, tonight it really does feel like they are in my front room. I take my place at the front – there is no pit barrier so leaning on the stage is the order of the night. And if Richie Kotzen needs a hand with his effects, I can in fact reach over and press them for him, I am that close.
The Dust Coda do the support duties and supply a short but very sweet and punchy set. John Drake’s sublime vocals with Adam Mackie’s gritty guitar got me wanting more. They finish their set with the excellent Limbo Man from their latest and excellent album ‘Mojo Skyline’. I need to check them out again soon.
Smith/Kotzen were scheduled for a 9pm start, but with technical issues there was a slight delay. They finally hit the stage at 9.50pm and damn did they hit it hard, with the technical set back certainly not dampening their spirits and energy. They were like a pair of uncoiled springs finally let loose on the stage. There was so much more energy on stage than the previous night. The interaction between Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen was a delight to witness and while the set list remained the same, the songs were taken apart and the necks of their guitars were rung within an inch of their lives. Solos were extended, jamming was clearly in evidence with Bruno Valverde (drums) and Julia Lange (bass) clearly encouraging this musical excursion. Bruno was a powerhouse tonight, with more than a few glances from Richie as to where are we going with this. At one point Adrian Smith even said, “I’m not sure why they bothered with rehearsals.” This was a band that clearly enjoyed being together and everyone was pushing the boundaries. No way self indulgent, just mesmerising for the lucky ones here who managed to get a ticket to this musical extravaganza.
So, highlights of the night? All of it… It was that good! We were treated to all nine songs from their album as well as all four tracks from the ‘Better Days’ EP. Plus we had a Richie Kotzen song ‘You Can’t Save Me’, to the great delight of a group of Kotzen fans at the front who were singing along with every word. A nod of approval from Richie was a nice acknowledgment for them all. There were clearly a lot of Iron Maiden fans in the audience tonight from the number of T-shirt’s and embroidered denim jackets in attendance and they weren’t to be disappointed when they heard the guitar introduction to the Adrian Smith penned Iron Maiden classic ‘Wasted Years’ (or ‘Wasted Tears’ if you look at the set list at Richie’s feet). The audience went wild and lapped it up. Rock ‘n’ Roll at its best. The final song of the night was ‘Running’, this being the first song that Adrian and Richie worked on and what a belter it was. What a night and what a performance. Covid may have been shit, but it did give us Smith/Kotzen, two rock icon neighbours who got together as a result of it and there maybe more to come as they hinted on a follow up album. Lucky us!
The Dust Coda