Everything old comes around again. For example, I first heard Uriah Heep in the early 1970s on 8-track cartridges, back when that format ruled the road. Back then, “Stealin’” and “Easy Livin’” were traveling anthems. In those days, we suffered through long breaks midway through such songs when the tape stopped and restarted to switch tracks. Now, hearing Uriah Heep as a download, those breaks have returned. This time the pauses interrupt the final notes of songs as the computer switches over to the next selection. Well, at least the pauses are shorter.
Back in 8-track days, Uriah Heep was a band in constant flux. The core members were David Byron (vocals), Mick Box (guitar), and Ken Hensley (keyboards). Each of these creative forces shared songwriting credits and built Heep’s early fusion of heavy metal and progressive rock. Forty years later, only Box remains. Like the song choices in the newly released Armenian concert, the current lineup represents different periods of the band’s development. Bassist Trevor Bolder joined in 1977 when Uriah Heep was still successful in Europe, Japan, and the Balkans, but largely forgotten in the States. Vocalist Bernie Shaw and Phil Lanzon (keyboards) joined in 1986. Both are now clearly significant contributors in the studio as well as on stage. The “baby” of the band is drummer Russell Gilbrook who came on board in 2007. Together, the new, improved Uriah Heep is a tight, dramatic, polished ensemble that may mix old and new songs together in their performances, but the power and style remains much the same as when it all began.
The concert captured in the 2 CD, 1 DVD collection from Frontiers Records came about when the group set out to celebrate their 40 year legacy. It’s interesting to note this was the first time Uriah Heep played in the former Soviet Republic, and the audience seems quite familiar with their catalogue. Crowd favorites from the very old days include “Gypsy,” “Lady in Black, “Tears in My Eyes,” and of course their biggest U.S. hits, “Stealin’” and “Easy Livin’.” They open the show with the title song from 2009’s Wake the Sleeper followed by other operatic pieces like ”Overload,” “Tears of the World,” “July Morning,” and “Sunrise.”
Throughout, this incarnation of Uriah Heep demonstrates they may be progressive rock journeymen, but it’s hard to imagine a band more qualified to rev up an audience. The underappreciated Box deserves a place in the guitar god pantheon; Lanzon more than carries on the flame of Hensley’s very Deep Purple-esque organ swells. The pair simply fill the arena with their power chords and lead lines. Drummer Gilbrook warrants special note as his crisp cymbal sounds and punching drums should make many a stick-man envious.
But it’s Shaw who is the center of the circus. During the songs, he has full-throated command of the crowd. In between, no one is better at pumping up the fans to sing along or dance while he has to admonish videotapers not to record the event. Those who haven’t heard the Heep in some time may miss the higher range of the late Byron, but Shaw is a singer with power, personality, and a stage presence second to no one.
This limited release may not be album of the year, but it’s well worth adding to your library for listening on and off the road. If you get the CD version, you won’t even have to deal with the breaks in the action.