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Mike Zito & Albert Castiglia

Wednesday 11th October 2023

Nell's London

Forget about the cost of living crisis, the cost of getting into Blues gigs has barely moved in the last ten years and is still the best value ticket in town. When you consider what you would pay, even at a non-league level, to watch callow footballers use both left feet to fail to trap a bag of cement against the extremely modest cost to watch internationally recognised, seasoned musical artists in intimate venues, you can start to develop an agitated twitch at the crazy upside down nature of things.

However, any gloomy thoughts are quickly dispelled when on evenings like this you just have to sit back and marvel at the artistry on display. I’ve been a big fan of Mike Zito since coming across his tribute album to Chuck Berry (a fellow citizen of St Louis) a few years back, which featured a whole cast of guitar greats and was emblematic of the obvious regard in which he is held by fellow musicians.

Of course, when you start looking you realise that he has got a huge back catalogue, all of which is great. I’d seen him live once before down the 100 Club and loved his guitar playing, so the chance of seeing him with his good buddy and record label mate, Albert Castiglia, who has a similarly impressive back catalogue, was one not to be missed. I’m very, very glad I didn’t! These guys are veterans of a zillion gigs and the way that the two front men and their fabulous band went from nought to sixty from the get go and kept their foot to the pedal thereafter was a lesson in stagecraft.

Touring the world to publicise their chart topping Billboard US Blues album ‘Blood Brothers’, produced by the not too shabby team of Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, the set featured plenty of songs from that release, starting with the up tempo chug of opening track ‘Hey Sweet Mama’ and a joint vocal by the pair and, not for the first time during the evening, much trading of solos, eight bars at a time of stinging, waspish playing.

There was a real swing to the band, helped in no small part by the addition of Castiglia’s drummer, Ephraim Lowell, to Mike Zito’s touring band to create a double headed, monster, driving backbeat that was a real treat to listen to. Mathew Johnson, Zito’s drummer made me think of some hepcat from a 50s hard bop outfit with his big lapelled shirt and snazzy tie. His partner in crime maintained an air of amused enjoyment throughout the evening playing in a seemingly more relaxed style while duplicating the beats. Doug Byrkit on bass did a great job in working with this drumming duo to nail the backline to the floor.

‘Blood Brothers’ is an excellent album and songs like ‘In my Soul’ (which has an intro that is a dead ringer for the intro to Blue on Black by KWS), ‘A Thousand Heartaches’, ‘My Business’ and ‘Hill Country Jam’ stood out as instantly recognisable. They threw in some faves like Zito’s ‘Gone To Texas’ (featuring some Allman style harmony guitar work, which led into them playing a few bars of ‘Jessica’) and a some covers, notably ‘Tell The Truth’ by Derek & The Dominoes and an encore blast through of Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’.

A great evening of snappy, Blues guitar playing full of character. They were brilliant and it was a pleasure to witness the interplay between the two front men. The chaps have wasted no time in celebrating the joyful spirit of their collaboration by releasing ‘Blood Brothers: Live In Canada’ which is highly recommended for those who weren’t lucky enough to catch the tour.

Simon Green

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