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It was a great privilege to see two greats collaborate so successfully

London: Islington Assembly Hall– 8 March 2022

Bucket's Rebel Hearts, featuring Paul Manzi from The Sweet and Cats In Space on vocals, opened up with a solid offering of straightforward Hard Rock. Dust Coda followed with a more modern take of faster Rockers, some slower grooves and some surprisingly sweet old-school falsetto vocals.

Smith/Kotzen's main set stuck largely to tracks from their eponymous debut album and more recent EP. Not Metal like Maiden, or Jazz fusion like some of Richie Kotzen's solo work, but quality Blues Hard Rock impeccably delivered. There seems to be the spirit of true friendship at the heart of this partnership, with vocals and solos equally shared and equal respect given to their different styles. Both got a chance to shine in the spotlight with no hint of any competition, just brotherly cooperation and appreciation.

Starting with catchy numbers 'Taking My Chances', 'Better Days' and 'Some People', they played to a packed hall of enthusiastic fans and were warmly received. Kotzen's wife Julia Lage ably carried duties on bass while adding a touch of charismatic feminine beauty and sass. Things got more intense with 'You Don't Know Me' and 'Hate And Love' with extended solos, both bluesy from Smith and super-fast shreds from Kotzen, coupled with the dramatic scrolling of both hands down the neck to finish and a shaking of his butt to the audience. I, for one, really appreciated the harder and showier Rock styles that Smith brings back out of Kotzen, reflecting the start of the latter's career. By now the audience are joining in as the band keep up the momentum with 'I Wanna Stay' and 'Til Tomorrow', before launching into biggie 'Scars'. A photo I took of Kotzen during a solo showed that not only were they giving the crowd goosebumps, but also each other.

The main set closed with 'Got A Hold On Me', 'Rise Again' and the mammoth 'Running', the first song this duo wrote together. The highlight of the evening for me was, however, my favourite Kotzen song 'You Can't Save Me' which I have always loved and featured as the first song of the encore. The crowd I think were with me and also rapturously embraced the Iron Maiden cover 'Wasted Years' that followed, singing along with passion. It certainly did not hurt that Nicko McBrain had taken up duties on drums and took his time to greet and make many friendly gestures to the crowd. He stayed put for final Smith/Kotzen track 'Solar Fire', bringing the whole shebang to a rather special end. It was a great privilege to see two greats collaborate so successfully in a venue that gave a far nicer experience for an audience than a stadium.

Dawn Osborne

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