Artist: Uriah Heep
Venue: B.B. King Blues Club (New York, NY)
Label: Ear Music
A few months ago I mentioned about how despite all of the hubbub about them, I never quite appreciated or “got” the band Accept and when I attended one of their shows many years after first hearing them found myself among the converted. The reason that I bring this particular musical flaw to light once again is because the same applies to me with the band Uriah Heep. Granted I loved the song “Easy Livin’” (especially when W.A.S.P. delivered a cover of it) but other than that they were pretty much a mystery to me even though they have been active since I was a very, very young child. My friends were more focused on what the group was all about and with this particular underground, cult status group I would have to learn by watching from this night going forward. Historically speaking the band was formed in 1969 of so and named themselves after a Charles Dickens character from his David Copperfield novel. The only original member from the band is guitarist Mick Box and in some sense based on the numerous lineup changes across their history are a group that rivals the Allman Brothers when it comes to stuff like this. In 2009 they celebrated their 40th anniversary as a band and have released twenty two studio albums and eleven live albums across their career. Their crème de la crème tunes can be found across the span of no less than twelve greatest hits compilations and anthologies.
The show would be held at the expected B.B. King’s and it would not only be their first at the famous venue ever but the bands first stateside appearance in at least ten years. I heard some folks speaking about how the band played at a festival show some years ago but that it was not a full on US tour so perhaps it was more like two decades since something like this had been attempted. I was not 100% sure so don’t quote me on that. There was no opening act tonight so I wondered how this show would do before walking in. We’ve seen successful shows for bands that had not been around before at this space but we’ve also seen some dreadful draws. The curiosity was cleared entirely as I walked into a packed to the doors venue. They had tables set up on the main floor but the area in front of the bar was left for standing room but truth be told, the word “room” was laughable since there was hardly an inch to spare. The last time I remembered the venue being this packed to the brim had to be the Saxon show that I attended several months ago. That was insane but great for the state of the Metal Republic. Moving along, the guys in Uriah Heep had recently released an album of their classics but ones that had been re-recorded by the lineup of today. They called it “Celebration” and it was something that would surely bring those out of the loop fans such as myself into their grasp. “Celebration” would be the follow-up to their 2008 release “Awake The Sleeper” which many found to be deliciously heavy and powerful. Clearly these old dogs had a lot of new tricks up their sleeves and loads of energy to spare.
They would open up with the title of the 2008 album and it knocked you around like nobody’s business for an intro. It was an exciting way to start the night that was for sure and it would continue with the title track off their eighth album “Return To Fantasy”. As I mentioned, I was going to be one of those members of the audience tonight who would be taking in the show as a willing pupil to the cult masters and learning tonight what they have been preaching for four decades. “Only Human” was up next and a song that I knew since it was from the album before last. I guess it can be described as a bit of a “commercial” number since it has a catchy chorus, solid groove and heavy keyboards. It does sound great live that’s for sure and the band is surely a tight one. I had mentioned how there had been numerous lineup changes over the course of their history but the roster present tonight along with Mick Box has been in place for over twenty years. That means singer Bernie Shaw, Trevor Bolder (bass), and Phil Lanzon (keyboards) and totally adept at the bands historic catalog. The only new member is drummer Russell Gillbrook who has been in place since 2007. He joined when long time drummer Lee Kerslake had to step down based on declining health. In case your curious about this, the bassist Trevor Bolder was one of the original Spiders From Mars. You know, the Ziggy Stardust David Bowie Spiders….
My friends and I opted not to be among those that were sitting since this was such an energetic Heavy Rock show and one that warranted your standing up with fists in the air and lungs a screaming. It was easy to do this with singer Bernie Shaw up on the stage because he was so damned rousing as a front man and he was commanding your attention at every point of the night. The band founder Mick Box seemed to garner the most applause anytime he spoke or switched a guitar and delivered a blistering lead. He was all smiles when you looked at him and was showing everyone what a great guitar player he was. There wasn’t a dull moment going on with this one but it was a little uncomfortable based on the crushing amount of people. I hope that the next time that this band comes around that they dispense with the tables down in the front since it will give folks a little more mobility. My favorites from the show came via the “Only Human” and “Wake The Sleeper” from the new album and of course their classics “Free And Easy”, “Easy Living” and the closer “Lady In Black”. Of course I would have swapped “Lady” for “Easy” in terms of the order that they presented them since everyone was on their feet during “Easy Living” and the air around you felt like it was aflame. That kind of energy for a tune just makes you think it should be the one sending you back home instead of doing one more.
Having been at this venue a number of times over the years it was safe to say that there were just under 800 rockers in the audience and not one of them left the club feeling that they didn’t get the show of their life. It’s a great show of support for a band that has been around for a long time but just not able to make these visits all the time. After seeing just how well this went over one has to think that a full US tour would be perfect for them with another kick ass band as their direct support. Let’s hope something like that happens in 2011. I know that I will be back and able to sing along to a lot more tunes than I was able to this time around. Tonight would end my three night residency at B.B. King’s but I would not be taking a night off by a long shot since the Progressive Art Rock band Renaissance would be doing a free show in Rockefeller Park tomorrow with Steve Hackett. Let the games continue.
1. Wake The Sleeper
2. Return to Fantasy
3. Only Human
4. Book Of Lies
5. Bird Of Prey
7. Love In Silence
10. Sunrise (omitted)
11. Free An Easy
13. Angels Walk With You
14. July Morning
15. Easy Livin’
16. Lady In Black
Given the length of time since the band had performed in NYC last I knew that this gig at B.B. King’s was a historic first and in keeping with tradition, here is a visual of their name on the bright marquee. Need a ticket? Good luck finding one as this show was sold out for many weeks to my knowledge. The early Metal bird gets to see the event, try to remember that little piece of wisdom going forward.
Tonight’s show was my third straight night at the venue and after the whole thing went down I just had to congratulate the guys on a job done amazingly well. My buddy Pete from SoT had joined me again for this one and together we raised a toast with singer Bernie Shaw, legendary guitarist Mick Box and bassist Trevor Bolder. Cool guys.
Bernie was now chilling out with a cold glass of wine and a comfortable t-shirt. During the show he was all tights and Rock Star glitz. The man knows how to work the stage and the crowd.
I almost want to say that I was “very ‘umble” when speaking to Mr. Box being one of the New School Fans of his body of work but the dude was an absolute pleasure to meet and talk to. We even talked about the prior evening’s Gentle Giant, I mean Three Friends show, and he mused aloud about always liking those chaps.
Here’s our buddy Jimmy Kunes, who most people know now as the singer for Cactus. We see Jim at B.B. King’s a lot and he plays there from time to time with a few different fun musical projects. I don’t think he was ready for me to take this photo but oh well, we were on a mission tonight.
Just a quick glimpse at a number of the guitars that Mick Box had on hand for the show.
Official Website: http://www.uriahheep.com