Gig review: RICHIE KOTZEN – 02 Academy, Islington, London, 16 September 2014

On Sunday 21 September at 19:00 GMT on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Pete Feenstra chats to Richie Kotzen as part of an hour-long special.  More information

RICHIE KOTZEN – 02 Academy Islington, London, 16 September 2014

Richie Kotzen’s current European tour is to promote ‘The Essential Richie Kotzen’, a double album and DVD. It’s a career resumé that aims to expand his audience base and on the evidence of this stellar performance he’s got the live show to back it up.

He’s completely unfazed by some initial amp distortion and leads his power trio into a seamless set full of soulful melodies, great singing and incendiary lead guitar work.  And it’s that unlikely crossover from rock to white boy soul and some great songs that makes Richie Kotzen special.

RICHIE KOTZEN – 02 Academy Islington, London, 16 September 2014

If he’s spent a significant portion of his 20 album solo career battling to retain his artistic integrity, then the new collection gives him the perfect opportunity to showcase his talent in the widest possible context.

His music encompasses a broad sweep of hard rock, soul, funk, with occasional bluesy edges and fusion style virtuosity, all played with consummate feel.

RICHIE KOTZEN – 02 Academy Islington, London, 16 September 2014

He’s essentially a musical conduit who channels all those influences into something that is uniquely his own.  He’s as good a singer as he is a guitarist, unafraid to slip into falsetto to capture the emotion of a lyric, while with the exception of the extended ‘You Can’t Save Me’, his solo’s are an integral part of the arrangements. His music also has a significant melodic sensibility born of intuitive interplay, good hooks and a consistent flow that glues the whole set together.

RICHIE KOTZEN – 02 Academy Islington, London, 16 September 2014

He opens with the tightly wrapped rocker ‘War Paint’, one of two new songs on the album and it’s the perfect meeting of bone crunching rock with soulful phrasing. The band adds three part harmonies on the hook of ‘Love Is Blind’, while ‘Bad Situation’ evokes the white boy soul of Jonny Lang and the funk of Prince on a deep groove.

So far so good, but then he leaps into the unknown with the premier of ‘Cannibals’, which he tells us is the title track of a forthcoming album next January. It’s a vocal tour de force that leads him to falsetto again and into the hook.

RICHIE KOTZEN – 02 Academy Islington, London, 16 September 2014

Each song adds an extra  musical layer and he encourages the audience to improvise the Theramin part of ‘Walk With Me’ (another new number from the ‘Essential’ set) and though his efforts are only partially rewarded, it creates an uplifting vibe as he pushes his vocals to the limit.

Better still, he sounds like the younger Terry Reid on the melodic and heartfelt ballad ‘Doin’ What the Devil Says to Do’. The song builds towards a defining guitar break and one of the biggest receptions of the night, before he momentarily evokes Hendrix on the intro to ‘Peace Sign’.

RICHIE KOTZEN – 02 Academy Islington, London, 16 September 2014

Up to this point the emphasis has been on melodies, emotional phrasing and nailing the grooves, but on ‘Help Me’, the band stretches out impressively and has fun.  Richie slips behind the drum kit for a ‘call and response sequence’ while his bass player funks things up on a magical jam.

The exuberant mood is tempered by a solo delivery of the yearning ballad ‘What Is’. He draws the crowd in with a final falsetto swoop to wring every last nuance of emotion from the song.

The band returns to rock out on ‘Fooled Again’ and explodes on the climatic hook of ‘You Can’t Save Me’, which provides the perfect finish to a killer show.

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents a weekly rock and blues show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio (Tuesdays, 19:00) and ‘The Pete Feenstra Feature’ showcasing interviews with a range of blues/rock artists (Sundays, 19:00)

Photos  by Jamie Wagg 

Album review


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