Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Uriah Heep - Live At Koko - Still One Great Band
Live At Koko
(Frontiers Records srl)
February 20, 2015
God bless Mick Box - there's something to be said for being the last man standing, and this man has managed to keep his ship afloat through thick and thin for forty-five years. He and his fine band deserve your love. Uriah Heep never got their due as critic's darlings, but they've been thrilling audiences and listeners in the same style since day one. Live At Koko continues that legacy in fantastic form - nobody's resting on their laurels, and everyone's giving 110%.
Bernie Shaw has been at the helm of this hard rock juggernaught for just under thirty years, and he's in as good a voice as he was the day he joined. he brings not just great tone, pitch, and phrasing to the gig, he also brings a sense of theatricality that makes a Heep show an occasion. He's one of hard rock's best frontmen, and he is vastly underrated. He puts on great shows, makes excellent records, and never displays less than a tremendous respect for the legacy that is Heep's before his joining.
'One Minute' is the lead track from last year's Outsider album, and it's an instant classic. It's Heep, but not the Uriah Heep of Byron and Hensley, this is the Heep of Shaw, Lanzon, and Gilbrook. They've made their own legacy, one which their fans are aware of, and adore. 'Nail On The Head' is another number from the band's recent recorded past, and this is a tight and right hard rock outfit who would rock in any time, anywhere. If you didn't know the chronology of the tunes it would matter naught, they are all of stellar quality.
There's a fairly new member of the band on this release, and Davey Rimmer is a great fit on the bass - he's no Trevor Bolder, but that's fine, you aren't going to find another of his likes anytime soon, and Mr. Rimmer is a very fine musician, and his more traditional bass lines are excellent. It's a terrible burden to replace a vital part of an engine that's been running smoothly for ages, but Heep has done so with the class, and precision you'd expect from a band that insists on things being done right. Hats off to all for making a devastating loss less so.
Songs. You want songs? Then this is a great place to be as the band cranks out eighteen tunes from their immense catalogue, mixing classics with newer material in a deft fashion. Mick Box's style as a guitarist has never stopped developing and by doing so he has kept his band from ever becoming a dinosaur act stuck in its tracks. No, this machine is well oiled and the newer material is very relevant and contemporary classic hard rock which competes quite well with the best of the breed in 2015. Some folks seem to consider Uriah Heep an oldies act, but that's just because they've allowed themselves to remain in the past. It's surely not the band's problem, it's actually one of their great strengths.
That being said, when the band fires off into the last third of their set starting with 'Gypsy', the band's first single from way back in 1970, they are running the table with a well played hand of classics. 'Look At Yourself' has always been a potboiler, and in the hands of a lesser drummer than the magnificent Russell Gilbrook, this one might end up in a ditch, but they keep it between the lines, and the joust between Mick Box's wah-drenched lead guitar and Phil Lanzon's hard core Hammond organ attack this chestnut is as damned thrilling as ever. Oh yeah, and check out the band's vocal harmonies - always a huge pleasure.
Speaking of wah-drenched, the next track is simply entitled, 'Box Wah', and Mick's solo is a thriller - can this really be the work of a 67 year old man? It can, and it is and it is a huge testament to the care that this man has taken to keep himself sharp and focused as a player and performer. He burns down the house with this one.
After that display you're going to have to catch your breath, and you hear an audience member screaming, "Here it comes, here it comes", and indeed, here comes almost twelve minutes of the classic, 'July Morning'. Box is still on fire through the extended intro, but then Lanzon brings it down with his organ sermon, and the crowd participation actually gives me goosebumps like I'm a damned kid. There's a guy shouting out, "Amazing. Bloody amazing!", and he's correct. This is some majestic magic - Bernie Shaw is great - let's make that very clear, the man is a great singer, and a tremendously admirable performer. Stunning stuff all these years later, I joined this particular fan club back in 1976 in a vast hockey arena, and since that day I've loved this band through all the trials and tribulations that are rock 'n' roll in the real world. I'll make no bones about my love for a band that does the job this well.
'Lady In Black' sees the outbreak of acoustic guitars, and harmony vocals, but the intensity is not less. Just a bit of a different dynamic, and another side of the many faceted Uriah Heep.
The band checks out with a bang, breaking out their biggest hit, Easy Living, and it's smashing. This is a band that has not lost a step, and has met some early career adversity with fierce determination, passion, and all that work has paid off better than could ever have been hoped. It took the band some time to land on this combination of players and characters, but today on this date in 2015, Uriah Heep is as fine a hard rock outfit as exists on the planet Earth.
If you like hard rock, you'll love this package - it's a great testament to the spirit of rock, and the fact that Rock Ain't Near Dead.