Smith/Kotzen @ KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 3 March 2022

Smith/Kotzen is an organic coming together of two bona fide rock stars. With a shared love of the past, they are out on their first UK tour, delivering to audiences what they believe classic, blues influenced hard rock should be.

If they need a quick introduction, then Adrian Smith is the commercial face and fingers of one of the greatest metal bands of all time, and arguably Britain’s most successful, Iron Maiden. While Richie Kotzen is an American solo artist with 20+ albums to his name, as well as being a past member of Poison and Mr. Big. Since 2012 he has also been the frontman of The Winery Dogs.

During 2021 Smith/Kotzen released their self-titled debut album, and a four track EP. Tonight’s set includes the entirety of both, with the first single ‘Taking My Chances’ and the EP’s hypnotic title track ‘Better Days’ kicking off proceedings. Not that I wish to be lazy in review, but these two tracks pretty much define the show as a whole. Powerful, gritty, melodic, bluesy, passionate .. I mean, how many adjectives do you need?

In amongst the rockier ‘Some People’, ‘Hate and Love’ and ‘Til Tomorrow’ come a couple of tasty, blues-infused ballads. Firstly, ‘You Don’t Know Me’, with extended and interchanging solos between the two maestros, proving the sum can be greater than the parts. Then comes the melody filled, slow burner ‘I Wanna Stay’, after which Richie explains he was “the biggest Maiden fan” when growing up, and how honoured he is to now be playing with Adrian. A comment well received at KK’s where much of the attention is on the iconic axeman.

The exceptional six string technical ability of the pair is combined with their individual vocal talents, in lead duties, backing vox and harmonies. On the records I find myself never quite sure who’s singing what in parts, so it’s great to see those arrangements. Through it all there is of course a myriad of influences, from Free and Bad Company to Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin; not to mention any number of other classic rock giants.

It’s obvious that Messrs Smith and Kotzen are enjoying this project, and no doubt for Richie it’s a bonus to have his wife, Julia Lage, on bass for the live shows. Along with drummer, Bruno Valverde, the energy and dynamism bought by the individually accomplished rhythm players is top drawer. By the time the quartet close the set with the speedier and harder edged ‘Solar Fire’, they have done more than prove their worth as a complete live unit.

The encore consists of the Richie Kotzen number ‘You Can’t Save Me’ and the riff driven ‘Running’, the first song which the partnership worked on. Sandwiched in-between is the Iron Maiden classic and Adrian Smith penned ‘Wasted Years’. The place erupts during the intro and virtually every camera phone in the house is held aloft. It’s a great way to end the show for Smith/Kotzen, to magnify both their individual diversity and this unique combination.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston