One of the world’s oldest and most influential hard rock/heavy metal bands, URIAH HEEP, brought their tour through Helsinki on August 2nd, 2013. A bucket-list band for many, URIAH HEEP stands in the ranks with old legends like BLACK SABBATH and DEEP PURPLE, and while they may be lesser-known than other greats from the ’70s, they nevertheless enticed a considerable crowd out to The Circus for a Friday night show in the city center. The concert-goers were a fair bit older than the usual rock crowd out on the town, and while the majority of them were less drunk, they were no less enthusiastic about the gig. The band was, unfortunately, in the wake of losing their bassist, Trevor Bolder, to pancreatic cancer. Dave Rimmer had stepped in to fill his shoes for the rest of the tour.
The show started the very second the clock struck 22:30 and a chanting groovy intro track got things started. The first sight the crowd saw was the smiling face of guitarist Mick Box, who could be an older version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, entering the stage to greet the crowd with the confident and enthusiastic smile of a laid-back veteran rocker.
As they got things started with “Against the Odds,” any doubts about show quality for first-timers were obliterated. For a group whose ages average out to be close to 60, they had a fantastic amount of energy. This carried right over into the second track, “Overload,” and throughout the rest of the show.
The band, and by that, we’re talking mostly Bernie Shaw (vocals), did lots of talking throughout the show, doing an amazing job of connecting with the crowd. After “Overload,” he asked how the crowd was doing, and expressed how great it was to be in Finland in the summer for once. Normally they’re used to the cold winter, and how everyone drinks twice as much to deal with the darkness, and ends up spending twice as much money while they’re at it. As such, it was an improvement to see all the scantily-clad women out in the sun. He also asked if The Circus was a new venue, since they had never been to it before, and asked how the crowd felt about it, because they were lovin’ it.
At that, he said they would try and cram about four decades of rock into a couple of hours, trying to please everyone on the beautiful Friday night, and that the next track would go all the way back to the ’70s, to an album called “Demons & Wizards.” This led up to an explosive rendition of “Traveler in Time.”
They then bumped up to the 1974 album, “Sweet Freedom,” and the guitar and bass worked together to rock out to “Stealin’.” Afterwards, Shaw was impressed with how loud the crowd was – just about as loud as he himself. He also said they’ll be recording a new album sometime around Christmas, and will hopefully be touring around these parts again afterward. Writers write, and they make fuckin’ rock n’ roll! With that, they set into some newer songs, starting with “I’m Ready.” After a few more songs, he mentioned the latest album from 2011, “Into the Wild,” and who wanted to hear the title track?
Following “Into the Wild,” they went back to 1979, and Shaw said that, “you’re still here and so are we,” which was the most important thing. The next song sort of turned into their anthem, which was “Gypsy,” which went straight into “Look at Yourself,” which was one of the liveliest and most crowd-involved songs of the night. At that point it became evident that Box has been at this for so long that playing the music is as natural as breathing, as his finger-work was almost lazily executed and still masterful in its sound. He had one tapping solo that was easily upwards of a minute or two long, with enough leftover effort to be silly while doing it.
Nearing the end, Box changed to an acoustic guitar and Shaw began to thank the crowd for coming out. He asked if the crowd would like a singing tune, and explained that the next song was kind of a surprise hit for them, which turned out to be “Lady in Black,” the song that ended the night before the encore.
They waited an ample amount of time to allow the crowd to cheer them back onstage, and Shaw stated that they had only one track that they really considered to be heavy metal, and that lately they’ve been calling some ladies from the crowd to come up to headbang to the track. Naturally, somewhere between ten and twenty women of all ages came up to the stairs to join the band for “Free & Easy,” though it is worth noting that not a single one chose headbanging over dancing. After the ladies gave their hugs and kisses to the band members and were shooed off stage, they ended the night with “Easy Livin’,” one of their shorter songs, but one that is likewise perfect to end the night on.
When you see a band that’s been around for over 40 years, you really have to wonder where they get there energy from. Many bands who’ve been around that long have grown weary and their live shows have suffered from it. URIAH HEEP did not have this issue. The drummer, Russell Gilbrook, while the youngest of the group, is still nearing 50 and was all smiles and energy, even rocking some impressive double-kick in a couple of the newer songs. Phil Lanzon on organ/keyboards was so eager that it seemed like the only thing holding him back from singing up front with Shaw was his need to stay at his stationary instrument. The whole show he was a blaze of loud backing vocals and enthusiastic rocking. Even Shaw himself was a bundle of electricity on stage, keeping up a more than adequate vocal range for the songs. There are some gentle high parts in the verses of “Traveler in Time” that could be easily lost to time and poor vocal care, but he was not a victim of such troubles. While not maintaining a perfect 100%, he would still be maintaining a quality upwards of 95%, which says a lot.
Really, the show was a blend of old-school ’70s rock, DEEP PURPLE-y organs, tight soloing, and genuine good feelings in the band and crowd alike. If you know their music, it’s definitely worth your time to check them out, and it sounds like there will still be opportunities to see them as long as they’ve still got life left in their bodies!
1. Against the Odds
3. Traveller in Time
6. I’m Ready
7. Between Two Worlds
8. Nail on the Head
9. Into the Wild
11. Look at Yourself
12. July Morning
13. Lady in Black
14. Free & Easy (encore)
15. Easy Livin’ (encore)
Written by Bear Wiseman
Interview with Vola — “At this point, we just felt like writing something heavy again, more streamlined.”