Zito & Castiglia – Hot Blood Brothers in Bonn

To quote the title of one of this evening’s tracks, Bonn was well and truly ‘Gone to Texas’ on Thursday (18 Oct). Well, at least, Texas had certainly come to Bonn in the shape of two of its premier Blues Rock ‘n’ Rollers. To the uninitiated, Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia go back a long way together, hence the tour title ‘Blood Brothers’. With so many long-term fans in attendance at the Harmonie it certainly seemed like a family affair.

If I didn’t love Mike Zito’s music I would still be an eager follower of his blog. Mike pulls no punches writing about his fight for sobriety and against drug use – both of which threatened to derail him as a gifted guitar-slinger. He was saved, he remembers in those excellent blogs, by his wife Laura who tragically passed away from Cancer in July this year. This quote from Mike’s first shows after Laura passed says all that needs saying, both about his way with words, and also why so many people are here at the Harmonie this evening not just for the music:

I missed Laura every day. I wished she was there to have fun with me. I tried to call her about 100 hundred times to tell her about the great show we just had or something hilarious that happened, but then realized she wouldn’t be answering. So, I just told her anyway

There is another form of love that dominates these shows though, and it’s rooted in that Tour title ‘Blood Brothers’. When Albert Castiglia kicks off the love song ‘1000 Heartaches’ with a request for all loving couples in the audience to raise their hands, there is a distinct lack of raised hands (maybe Germans are very shy of revealing such feelings? Maybe it’s because the Harmonie audience is heavily male on such Bluesy evenings?). Mike calls across from his stage corner with a smile “I love you Albert” and Albert grimaces back “I don’t want your kinda love Zito!” before breaking out in a big grin that says it all. That’s what this ‘Blood Brothers’ tour is all about for sure.

Okay, back on track, this is after all a music blog and five paragraphs in I haven’t even started to review the sounds and the music coming from the five gentlemen on stage, so let’s get started, because it was a great evening for music lovers!

Support artist from Surrey in England Adam Giles Levy is signed to Mike Zito’s Gulf Coast Record label and for a man equipped with only a voice and assorted guitars and pedals, he made quite a wall of sound (there was actually a bass drum front-of-stage but seemed to be just to support his name on it’s head – I waited in vain to see him use it). Powerful vocals and a powerful, visceral stage presence are Adam’s style. I can imagine him going down well with a band at one of the Crossroads Rock Palast shows here. It was certainly an impressive performance that smacked of a star in the making. The last time I felt that way was when I saw Jack Savoretti open for Madison Violet here – Jack went on to sell out the Albert Hall, so heed my words and check out Adam Giles Levy on YouTube.

A short break for the stage to be updated and whilst the lights are still dimmed five silhouetted figures walk out to greet us. The shadow stage left calls out “Shout ready when you’re ready, Albert’. From the shadow stage right comes a loud ‘Ready!’ in response and we are off on the sort of roller-coaster rock ‘n’ rolling extravaganza that only two men who know each other’s very heartbeats in advance can deliver. The boogie riff of ‘Hey Sweet Mama’ is the bastard child of Status Quo meeting Mott’s ‘All the Way from Memphis’. It’s a pace that slows only occasionally for a couple of love songs. The already mentioned ‘1000 Heartaches’ is the only ballad. ‘You’re Gonna Burn’ is a song of romance too but, as Albert points out, an ‘alternative’ song about love. The title says it all.

If you are looking for some form of inventive, contemporary rock exploring obscure notes and even more obscure topics then Blood Brothers will not be for you. If however, you’ve ever been to a show where the band has played a solid set and then played just one song that blew you away then imagine a concert filled with those ones that blew you away and you will know that a Blood Brothers concert is where you should be. The rocking/rolling ‘Tooth and Nail’, swaggering blues of ‘No Good Woman’, screaming out and out rock of ‘My Business’. In short – magic!

It seemed like a strange choice when I saw the set-up onstage – two drummers and no keyboards? In fact, it was a stroke of genius. With two top-class guitar players exchanging lead and rhythm parts seemingly by osmosis that extra layer wasn’t really needed and the trade-off was that we got a powerful rhythm section to knock us out of our boogie socks. With Ephraim Lovell from Albert’s band and Matt Johnson from Mike’s band this was really an evening to get feet tapping the dance floor. The drum duel on ‘Hill Country Jam’ actually had me enjoying a drum solo for the first time in… well, The Brew perhaps when Kurtis Smith goes stickless. Pure magic and maybe another pair of blood brothers? I would say ‘poor Doug Byrkit’ on his own with the bass – except he dug deep to fill in around the twin drum sound and complete a veritable wall of rock ‘n’ roll sound for the evening.

After such a high-power start, things should have struggled to keep up the pace and quality, but instead, the evening’s end really showed how much warmed-up fingers can fly on fretboards. I’d never heard of Graham Wood Drout before tonight but he wrote my favourite number of the evening, the high-speed boogie-infused ‘Bag me, Tag me, Take me away’. Just in case you were musically taken away, there was Mike Zito’s home-grown classic ‘Gone To Texas’ to bring us all safely home and finally, a reminder that we are so lucky to be living in a part of the world that allows us to do all this boogying with a fierce ‘Rocking in the Free World’. Hey people, if you didn’t know it before, Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia made it very clear to us all on an unforgettable night at Bonn Harmonie – we are ALL Blood Brothers.

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