The last week of January 2022 was a banner week for the city of Ventura, at least as far as musical performances go. To start the week off, The Struts graced the stage of The Majestic Ventura Theater. A mere five days later, on Friday, January 28th, the quaint downtown venue was privileged to host a performance by two legendary guitarists. The duo of Adrian Smith, better known as a guitarist for Iron Maiden and Richie Kotzen, solo artist and sometime Winery Dog, simply brand themselves as Smith/Kotzen.
What was originally scheduled to be the inaugural date of the small swing through The Golden State, with a quick detour through Las Vegas, was flipped to the end of the run. Although it might have been pretty cool to say you were at the very first Smith/Kotzen show, there may be a silver lining here. As well rehearsed as the show may have been, there is nothing quite like taking it to the people and working out some kinks. In that sense, the lucky several hundred people in attendance this night were regaled with a tight set of bluesy, guitar fueled rock songs.
Accompanying them on the trek are bassist Julia Lage, who just so happens to be Kotzen’s wife, as well as Bruno Valverde on drums. Now, if you think that Lage is only along for the ride as a result of nepotistic favor, think again! She not only delivered a solid performance, providing the bottom end, but also added some pleasant visual stimulation to the presentation. Lage moved about the stage flipping her long straight locks, and would periodically shadow Smith as they played in tandem. As for Valverde, his handling of the battery was impressive for its ferocity and restraint. He exhibited no flash, only hard-hitting precision and complete surrender to being the heartbeat of the music. Enough cannot be said about what these two brought to the production. It is no small feat to maintain the fine line between holding your own and not overshadowing the marquee players. Lage and Valverde pulled that off to a T!
As for Smith and Kotzen, you get exactly what you would expect, demand really. Guitar, guitar and more guitar. They band runs through all nine songs from the debut album as well as all four from the follow-up EP, Better Days. Most of the songs are a bit of a departure for Smith and what he typically does at his day job, not so much for Kotzen. The songs are built on bluesy riffs, laced with dueling guitar solos. Both Smith and Kotzen handle lead vocals on particular songs and even split time dishing out to and from verses. Kotzen’s soulful wailings are as expected. Smith, on the other hand is somewhat of an unknown commodity in the singing domain. That previous statement may no longer hold true. His vocal abilities are on full display, Smith’s gritty, delta-blues tone is a perfect contrast to Kotzen’s higher timbre.
The set seems to fly by in the blink of an eye, even though it is a shade over an hour and a half. There isn’t much extraneous talking between songs. Just after the mid-way point, the intensity really ratchets up. It starts with ‘Til Tomorrow, in which these masters display their chops in a three each back and forth solo that delights the crowd. The culmination of the set screams forward with the blistering Got A Hold On Me and Rise Again. They scorch the finale with Solar Fire, a six-string delight underscored with tasteful vocal harmonies. After a very brief recess, the foursome returns to the stage for a three song encore. First is the brooding Kotzen tune, You Can’t Save Me. The crowd erupts when Smith begins scratching out the opening riff to Maiden’s Wasted Years, and they knock this one out of the park. Wrapping up their last U.S. show with Running, it is time to run off to The U.K. for a seven stop British tour that starts on February 27th.
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