Without blues and rock, we would have very little of what we call popular music today. But whenever the slogan “rock is dead” echoes loudly or a new EDM or pop singer reaches number one on the charts, we automatically come to the conclusion that guitar bands are just a shadow of the past. The Sydney Guitar Festival was clearly a counter reaction to this narrative; the festival ran for a whole week and was dedicated to only guitar based bands, hosting many artists from Australia and abroad in several different venues and included guitar workshops and junior guitar championships.
One of the highlight shows of the festival was Richie Kotzen (of Poison and Mr Big fame) and his trio playing a headline show at Sydney’s Factory Theatre in Marickville. Richie Kotzen has an impressive catalogue as a solo artist and has collaborated with other amazingly talented musicians including legendary jazz bassist Stanley Clarke as well as Mike Portnoy and Bill Sheehen in the classic rock band The Winery Dogs to name a few. Joining Richie Kotzen’s band as support was blues guitarist Claude Hay hailing from Katoomba in the Blue Mountains and the powerful vocalist Virginia Lillye.[metalwani_content_ad]
Virginia Lillye kicked off the evening singing in an unplugged set with only an acoustic guitarist accompanying her. She certainly has an all mighty voice singing the blues with heart and soul, specially on her intimate rendition of Randy Newman’s “Guilty”, inspired by American blues singer Beth Hart’s cover. Claude Hay came on stage with just his slide guitar and an iPad for his backing tracks. His performance was also powerful with soaring vocals resembling Robert Plant and an audience that were entranced by his bluesy guitar riffs. There were intense covers of Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins “I Put a Spell on You” and The Beatle’s “Come Together” much to the audience’s satisfaction. Claude Hey closed his performance with an emotional tribute to Chris Cornell by playing a snippet of “Outshined”.
A full house was in attendance by the time Richie Kotzen and his band came on stage. The first few numbers were instrumental jams giving Kotzen creative licence to do several guitar solos, demonstrating his years of honing the craft of guitar virtuosity. As a unit the band locked themselves into several heavy grooves and at times Kotzen let his bassist and drummer do their respective solos. As well as being a gifted guitarist he is also a talented keyboardist using the instrument to funk up the music and bring about soothing layers in his compositions. The band is a culmination of 60’s and 70’s classic rock with a touch of traditional vintage soul and blues thrown into the mix, these styles were especially noticeable on the composition “My Rock”. This translates well as a live show and proves the versatility of each musician; the compositions themselves prove to also be at times rocking but also fragile and sensitive and on several occasions Richie was happy to bring out his acoustic guitar. The other noticeable quality throughout the set was how well the audience knew the bands repertoire and how much each song would resonate with the crowd. Audience participation and clapping to the beats were highly encouraged, making the atmosphere and showmanship of the band entertaining and professional.
The concert was a great journey into musical improvisation and classic guitar riffing and as punters left the venue you can hear people chatting about how rock is still alive and it doesn’t just come down to The Rolling Stones to uplift the spirit of rock music. The soul of the music certainly uplifted people’s moods and gave reassurance that despite only a handful of rock bands actually touring in front of large audiences there are still world-class musicians who can put on a great show in an intimate space which will live long in the memories of most music enthusiasts. Richie Kotzen is now a veteran musician and demands respect from rock critics and music fans that value musicianship and dedication to live performance above all else.