(Note: This is the second installment of DEH’s Cover Them There to Bring Them Here series.)
Well, I certainly didn’t see that coming…
I cover a lot of concerts, and I take great pride in the amount of pre-concert prep work I put in. Included in that prep work is getting to know everything I can about the artists and their music, and putting together my best projection at what their setlist might look like.
I’m pretty good at what I do. The projected setlists I put together are generally very accurate – sometimes spot on. But all of the prep work in the world was for naught when it came to the 25-song, nearly three-hour set of music delivered by Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia to the packed house at Knuckleheads Saloon last Friday night.
Since Zito and Castiglia started touring as Blood Brothers last year, their shows have followed a fairly predictable pattern. There’s a Castiglia set, and a Zito set, and a combined set. The individual artist sets usually include seven or eight songs, and the combined set usually includes nine or ten songs, mostly covers from bands/artists ranging from Junior Wells to The Allman Brothers to The Rolling Stones.
The pair threw a potential wrench into my setlist prognostication when they recorded a Blood Brothers album last fall. That album, which was co-produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, is set for release on March 17. Given that, I assumed the combined set would include a healthy dose of material from the new album, supplanting some of the covers.
I was right about that last part. But beyond that, I was pretty much dead wrong.
What we got Friday night, and what audiences from sea to shining sea will be getting between now and September, was/is a nearly three-hour marathon featuring Mike, Albert, and the entire Blood Brothers band. No breaks. No intermission. Just three hours of non-stop blues and blues rock. Included in the set performed at Knuckleheads was the entire new album – eleven songs, including originals and covers.
I will admit that entering the show I was looking forward to seeing Castiglia perform material from last year’s outstanding album release I Got Love. And Zito blending Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and “Kashmir” into a showstopping version of “Judgement Day”. I didn’t get that, but what I got instead was, in a word, spectacular.
After an inspiring warm up set from local bluesman Nick Schnebelen, who has a new album of his own set to drop on March 10, the entire Blood Brothers band took the stage at 9:20 pm. Backing up Zito and Castiglia on the road are members of their respective solo bands, including Doug Byrkit on bass, the legendary Lewis Stephens (a member of the original Freddy King Band) on keys, and both drummers from Zito’s and Castiglia’s bands, Matthew Johnson and Ephraim Lowell.
Touring with two drummers isn’t exactly new, but it’s not something you see every day. Most people in the music industry credit James Brown as being the father of the two-drummer movement, although he certainly wasn’t the first to do it. Many bands over the years have used multiple drummers, most notably, at lease with regard to the blues and blues rock world, The Allman Brothers Band. Not coincidentally, there’s a lot of Allman Brothers influence in the music of Blood Brothers, including a strong cover of “Trouble No More”, which is a staple of their live shows.
Johnson and Lowell are fabulous together, playing off each other as though they’ve been doing it their entire careers. Johnson is the more animated of the pair, Lowell the more laid back. But both can tear it up, and had a chance to step out front during dueling solos within the “Trouble No More” cover.
Byrkit and Stephens are likewise laid back, yielding the stage to the gunslingers out front. Byrkit stands center stage, between the two drum kits. Stephens is set up to Zito’s right, and stays largely out of the limelight.
Zito and Castiglia, who are good friends off stage, are perfect compliments to each other on stage. While no stranger to stepping out front and striking classic rock star poses, Zito tends to be a more laid-back showman. Castiglia, on the other hand, is ultra-animated… sometimes nearly manic. He’s a photographer’s dream, dancing, prancing and mugging the whole show long. This is the second time I’ve had the opportunity to cover Castiglia, and he’s always one of my favorite artists to shoot.
Friday night’s show opened with something new – the song “Hey Sweet Mama” from the upcoming album – and ended with something vintage – a rousing cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”. In between there were a handful of songs from each artist’s solo catalog, including Castiglia’s “What The Hell Was I Thinking” (from his 2016 release Big Dog), and Zito’s “Gone To Texas” (from his 2013 album by the same name). But mostly this night’s set was about the new Blood Brothers album first, and letting the two guitar masters jam together on covers that influenced both of their careers. Highlights there included the John Haitt cover “My Business” (which will appear on the new album), The Allman Brothers’ “Soulshine”, The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”, and Buddy Guy’s “Let Me Love You Baby”.
That latter cover was part of a two-song mini-set in which opener Nick Schnebelen joined the band, making it a three-lead guitar lineup. The second song of that mini-set was the Muddy Waters/Freddy King cover, “Sugar Sweet”. On both songs the guitarists ripped into three-way dueling solos that brought the house down. Schnebelen, positioned between Zito and Castiglia, did more than hold his own with the two headliners. I’m not sure when and where the three found the time to rehearse this set, but it was as polished as if they had been playing together for years.
The Zito/Castiglia Blood Brothers pairing, born out of a friendship that started when the two met for the first time in 2008, has turned into a legitimate “thing”. The momentum has reached fever-pitch. Blood Brothers 2023 tour dates are scheduled within the US into September, followed by visit to the UK in October. But there’s one spot conspicuously absent from the list of cities scheduled for shows in 2023, and that spot is Denver.
Here’s where you get to join in the fun. Join me in sending a message that we’d love to see Mike and Albert bring their Blood Brothers show to Denver. Follow the link below, to the bandsintown website, and click on the ‘Request a Show” button. And/or, reach out directly to the band’s booking agency, Intrepid Artists International, Inc., by sending an email to email@example.com. Let see if we can’t create a little bit of a groundswell of momentum to bring this incredible act to the Mile High City.
Story and photos by Rick Witt www.rickwittphotography.com