There is something both awe-inspiring and humbling when watching a musician so skilled that it seems that his instrument is an extension of his hands. Awe-inspiring for obvious reasons; humbling because one realizes how feeble their own music skills are compared to the master. Just how does someone achieve that level of greatness? Are they born with it? Relentless practice? Did they make a deal with the devil at the proverbial crossroads?
Richie Kotzen rolled into town touring in support of his latest release The Essential Richie Kotzen. Kotzen is a prolific guitarist/songwriter/singer, but remained an unknown quantity to most until recently, when his profile was raised due to the success of the Winery Dogs. Kotzen put The Essential together to give newcomers to his music a sampling of his career.
He opened the night with War Paint, which is one of the few new songs on the album. In the nearly two hours that he played, Kotzen chose many of the songs on the two-disc set, such as Change and You Can’t Save Me. Other tunes were favorites of his that weren’t included on the current release, in particular Doing What The Devil Says To Do.
A special treat for longtime fans of Kotzen (who were undoubtedly familiar with every song on the setlist) was Cannibals, which is a song off his latest album that will be released in 2015. It was a killer tune, and if it was a reflection of the upcoming album then fans of RK have a lot to look forward to.
Many of the songs broke into extended jams between Kotzen, bassist Dylan Wilson and drummer Mike Bennett. Even though Kotzen’s name is the one of the marquee, Wilson and Bennett are equal foils to his stellar guitar work. Watching Kotzen and Wilson go toe-to-toe with their lightning-fast solos (lead bass, anyone?) was breathtaking.
One highlight of the show was midpoint through the set list. Kotzen introduced Wilson and Bennett, and then walked offstage. It showed that far from being a “rock star” or “guitar god,” (although he really is both) Kotzen is humble enough to both acknowledge and encourage his bandmates to share the limelight—which they proceeded to do in fine fashion. First came Bennett’s extended drum solo. Wilson then slowly joined in, playing a familiar a riff: Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love. If you’ve never heard a bass-and-drums version of that song…well, it was pretty damn cool.
The choice of that song was actually quite appropriate. When Kotzen, Wilson and Bennett would engage in extended jams, it was actually quite reminiscent of a power trio of an earlier generation; namely Clapton, Bruce and Baker.
There were so many high points of the evening that it would be tough to choose one, but a contender was the song What Is. On The Essential Richie Kotzen there is a version with just acoustic guitar and vocals. Kotzen upped that a notch by playing the song with his electric guitar. Kotzen has one of the most unique, distinctive and recognizable voices in rock, and alone on stage his impassioned singing rang through the club as the crowd sat in utter silence, as if not wanting to intrude on the intimate moment.
For the encore, Kotzen and band returned to end the show on an up-tempo note with the rocker Go Faster. All three musicians were completely drenched in sweat and drained by the end of the song and the night. It was an amazing, memorable evening of both incredible musical prowess and emotion.
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