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Smith and Kotzen deliver a real treat of an evening

The last night of a phenomenally successful UK tour that began in the fine city of Manchester – with the venue upgraded due to the demand for tickets – is held in Adrian’s home town, London.

Smith / Kotzen – Islington Assembly Hall

Tuesday 8 March 2022

Words: Jon Morrison

Photography: Robert Sutton

The Smith / Kotzen album was a very welcome distraction from the general chaos around the globe; a powerful reminder that music can lift us up and away from it all. When the London date was announced AND I managed to get tickets, I began counting down the days. After a very unsettling and emotional time for live music, to see it back, and with such a vengeance, means we’ll never take it for granted again.

Buckets Rebel Heart, Islington
Buckets Rebel Heart, Islington. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

Buckets Rebel Heart is a classic British rock band featuring ex-Bad Company and current Humble Pie guitarist Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell. Colwell, who played with Adrian Smith in his pre-Maiden Urchin days, also appeared on Smiths A.S.a.P album Silver And Gold, released in 1989.

Buckets Rebel Heart, Islington
Buckets Rebel Heart, Islington. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

Their debut album, 20 Good Summers, was released in 2018, and this slab of vinyl is well worth a revisit based on tonight’s performance. The band, fronted by Paul Manzi (Cats In Space, The Sweet), were in great form, and this group of talented musicians were a joy to watch.

The Dust Coda, Islington
The Dust Coda, Islington. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

The Dust Coda, whose album Mojo Skylinemade the UK album chart top 30 last year, certainly have the classic rock vibe. While not doing anything new or ground-breaking, they look and sound good and got the crowd simmering nicely for the main event.

The Dust Coda, Islington
The Dust Coda, Islington. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

The band head out on a headling tour in April/May 2022, and on tonight’s evidence, they are certainly worth investing more listening time in.

Richie Kotzen, Islington
Richie Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

I didn’t know much about Richie Kotzen before tonight, but a quick search revealed a very impressive history of playing in Poison, Mr Big and now front and centre of The Winery Dogs.

So what happens when you get a genuine legend like Adrian Smith colliding with the preternaturally talented Richie Kotzen? It’s a kind of alchemy.

Adrian Smith, Islington Assembly Hall.
Adrian Smith, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

One of the things that have been sorely missed from gigs during that crappy 18 month Covid pause was the build-up, the anticipation. Everyone in Islington was buzzing. When the lights went down, that roar almost lifted me off my feet.

A classical introduction piece was followed by the boom, as Smith and Kotzen were straight into Taking My Chances, the opening track from their debut album. Adrian Smith is a fine singer, powerful yet bluesy, the perfect foil for Kotzen’s smoother voice.

Adrian Smith, Islington Assembly Hall.
Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

They took their foot off the pedal for You Don’t Know Me, which builds to a bluesy rock ballad. Intertwining vocals and solos, the sounds from these seasoned musicians, more used to arenas and stadiums, is spine-tingling. I felt wave after wave of joy from the front to the back.

They made their way through the album by stealth, with not a note wasted anywhere. They’re backed by a fantastic band (the bass player, Julia Lage, is Kotzen’s wife). Before the gig, I heard someone at the bar say “he’s cut his hair and his wife’s playing bass.” Now it all made sense.

Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

There was a moment during Got A Hold On Me where they joined each other at the front of the stage, clearly having a ball, enjoying the intimacy of these venues.

The set was closed with an incendiary version of Running, one of my favourites from a very strong album and then it was done. Smith and Kotzen thanked us for coming out, both looking very happy. As I looked at the people around me, it was apparent that this had been cathartic for everybody, including the band.

Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

We didn’t have to wait too long for the encore. I’ve learned over the years that you should never leave a gig before the encore. You never know what you might miss. If I had left, I would have missed everyone’s favourite loon of a drummer Nicko McBrain make an appearance and getting behind the kit for the Smith penned Maiden classic Wasted Years.

Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

Moments like this don’t come often. Two-fifths of one of the best bands on the planet, playing Islington Assembly Hall? I’ll tell my grandchildren about that one.

Nicko stayed behind the kit for Solar Fire, another cracker from the album, which sees Smith and Kotzen sharing vocals and some phenomenal guitar interplay, reaching a crescendo of such magnitude that the residents of Hackney may have felt the ground shake.

The end of the gig was very much a “let’s do this again sometime”. As much as I hope to see Smith’s other band again soon, this was a real treat of an evening.

Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

Smith/Kotzen setlist

Taking My Chances

Better Days

Some People

Glory Road

You Don’t Know Me

Hate and Love

I Wanna Stay

‘Til Tomorrow

Scars

Got a Hold on Me

Rise Again

Running

Encore

You Can’t Save Me

Wasted Years

Solar Fire

Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Smith/Kotzen, Islington Assembly Hall. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Buckets Rebel Heart, Islington. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Buckets Rebel Heart, Islington. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Buckets Rebel Heart, Islington. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
Buckets Rebel Heart, Islington. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
The Dust Coda, Islington. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
The Dust Coda, Islington. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
The Dust Coda, Islington. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk
The Dust Coda, Islington. Photo: Robert Sutton/MetalTalk

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