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Featuring acclaimed musicians Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden) and Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr. Big, The Winery Dogs), Smith/Kotzen is the musical collaboration we didn’t know we needed.  Getting a chance to see these world class musicians perform only their third show ever at Brick by Brick in San Diego proved to be a special experience. 

Richie and Adrian released their highly praised debut album Smith/Kotzen in March 2021, an album rightfully noted on multiple best rock albums of the year lists.  The 9-track record is straight ahead soulful melodic hard rock, rooted in blues overflowing with virtuoso guitar work, eloquent writing, and world class dual vocals.  Quoted from the band’s website: “Richie and I started working together a couple of years ago”, explains Adrian Smith. “We’d been jamming as we’d been friends for a few years before that. We both share a love for classic rock and bluesy rock, so we decided to get together and start writing some songs and it went from there.” 

The surprise takeaway for me and many listeners was how well Adrian could sing.  Richie had long-ago established himself as an amazing vocalist who had earned frequent comparisons to the late great Chris Cornell.  But Adrian’s voice really shines as well, making the vocal trade-offs and brilliant harmonies between the superstars pure fire.  Building on their success, Smith/Kotzen also decided to release an excellent 4 track EP Better Days in November 2021.  Two of the four tracks were recorded more recently in April 2021 revealing an expansion of the project’s sound – including a gargantuan guest drum performance by Mike Portnoy on “Rise Again.”

Although their self-titled debut album was released in March 2021, it was recorded in what seems an eternity ago - February 2020 “B.C.” (Before Covid).  Understandably, the guys were energized and excited to finally perform their collaborative work in front of live audiences.  The packed Brick by Brick crowd cheered wildly as Adrian, Richie, and band took the stage wearing big smiles.  The opening song was the debut single “Taking My Chances”, one of many songs with a signature crunchy blues riff and melodic chorus showcasing Adrian and Richie harmonies.  With frequent eye-contact a beaming grins, it was obvious these two rock veterans possessed a special chemistry together.  Legit genuine musical synergy. 

With the main two guys trading impressive guitar licks and singing their asses off, the female bassist’s rhythmic skills and smiling energetic stage presence also caught my attention.  Only later did I learn she was Richie’s wife Julia Lage, an accomplished singer/songwriter and bass player in her own right.  Originally from Brazil, Lage teamed up with fellow Brazilian drummer Bruno Valverde (Angra) for an all-Brazilian rhythm section providing the horsepower necessary to support the Smith/Kotzen machine.

The two guitar masters wowed the crowd all night, frequently extending songs with extra blazing all-out jams.  A great example was on “Scars”, a passionate rock masterpiece high on my list of best songs of all 2021.  The guitar interplay was epic.  Watching Adrian passionately going off on his Les Paul then passing it over to Richie firing his Strat on all cylinders using his no-pick technique was live music greatness in its purest form.  The band’s short U.S. tour is now over, and a similar brief tour of Europe will begin in February.  Be sure to check out the two Smith/Kotzen albums and, if you missed these guys perform live, go search live footage available online.  You will enjoy it! 

Be well and keep rockin’ - Greg Vitalich

Greg Vitalich

Photojournalist - San Diego

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