Named after a Dickens character, Uriah Heep are a true English rock n roll band in every sense of the word. Alongside acts like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, they formed part of the early pioneers of – you can hear their sound in numerous modern metal bands, from Iron Maiden to Metallica, to every power metal band ever created.
And on Saturday night, they played a show in Auckland – the first show here for 29 years.
After a delicious pub dinner and catch-up with old friends and previous bandmates Lee & Chrissy (read about their awesome Finnish metal adventure), we headed down to the show, which was at the Studio on K’Rd. Truthfully, I’m not the biggest fan of the Studio as a venue for larger shows. I’ve been to a couple of smaller events there – Auckland Fetish Ball and some local bands – and they’ve been fine, but for international acts where the venue packs out it’s 750 person capacity, it gets hot and uncomfortable really fast.
Tonight was no exception, and within minutes of entering the stage area, I was drenched in sweat. It was worth every sweat-soaked minute.
On guitars was Mick Box, the only original member of Uriah Heep remaining, and the creative mind behind much of the cohesiveness of their sound. You’d hardly know the guy was old enough to have great-grandchildren as he powered through complex solos and rocked out with ease. On keyboards, Phil Lanzon had an ethereal presence – all while getup and flowing silver hair, hidden at the back of stage in a haze of smoke. Russell Gilbrook plays drums with enthusiasm and skill – he’s a hard hitter with a fantastic presence on stage. But it was Canadian vocalist Bernie Shaw who carried the night – a stunning vocal performance of soaring melodies and epic wails, worthy of any metal festival stage. A consummate professional, he kept the energy alive through the long set of drawn-out prog epics and 4-minute rock classics.
The setlist included five tracks from the new album, Outsider. Usually, this is a bit of a disappointment for fans who come to gigs like this to hear the classics, but in this case, the new album is so excellent that I was actually hanging out to hear songs like “The Law” and “The Outsider”. It can be hard for a band that’s been around for 40 years to produce new material that doesn’t sound like a parody. But if anyone can, Uriah Heep can.
But it’s those classic tracks we’re all dying to hear, and Uriah Heep don’t disappoint. Holding up the middle of the set was “Stealin'”, where Shaw got the whole crowd singing along. They followed this up with “The Magician’s Birthday”, a 1973 progressive anthem of strange time changes and mystical wizardy soundscapes. The final four songs were the highlight of the evening – starting with July Morning, another progressive classic from early Heep days. Then, “Lady in Black”, one of my personal favourites, with it’s almost folkish rock melodies – another great singalong opportunity. The encore was Gypsy – Uriah Heep’s most famous song – and arguably one of the greatest rock / folk songs ever written. This was followed with the best possible closer – the fast, furious and fantastically fun “Easy Livin”.
This show was four days ago and I am still singing Uriah Heep songs in my head. What an amazing performance by a class act – a band who treated their fans with dignity and grace and who gave it their all. Ten out of ten – would headbang again.
The Sunken, my dark fantasy novel, is now available on Amazon.
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