Hard rock's best kept secret for over forty years was no stranger to the crowd that turned out for a beautiful evening at the Fraze on the cusp of summer for ninety minutes of an absolute rock-and-roll smash.
Cincinnati's Aristo opened and was totally mismatched for this event. A generic brand of modern pop replete with skinny jeans, long hair going to one side or the other and a tendency to play to the amplifiers instead of the crowd, their set was mercifully short (and soured early when the singer introduced the band with "I had never heard of Uriah Heep before tonight").
Heep roared onstage with a bright and lively "I'm Ready" from their most recent release, the excellent Into the Wild. A surprise throwback to the '75 single and title track, "Return to Fantasy," set the stage for a night that would alternate between Heep's latest work and some of their earliest. "Stealin'" had the crowd on their feet immediately and was an early favorite. It's worth noting from the outset that, while Uriah Heep has always been Mick Box's baby, the night belonged to Trevor Bolder and Phil Lanzon on bass and keyboards. The absolute richness of the sound those two provided upon which the rest of the band could ride was overwhelming in the best of all possible ways. A wicked, wicked "Rainbow Demon" followed, making it clear that plenty of deep cuts would be in store for the evening.
"Money Talk," one of the strongest tracks from Into the Wild, brought us back to recent days and gave the audience one of the most cherished of classic rock treats: the extended drum solo. Russell Gilbrook was fantastic all evening and it was thrilling to see him in the spotlight so early in the show.
The band stuck with Into the Wild material, jumping back again for a nice acoustic breather with "The Wizard" but, for me, the head-banging began with a bass-and-keyboard drenched, heavy-as-all-hell "Gypsy," proving once and for all that Heep have earned their title of Godfathers of Heavy Metal. It was almost too much of a good thing as "Look at Yourself" followed immediately with some insane soloing from Mick Box. It cannot be said enough (and I know it is, over and over) that the man is one of the most underrated and undercelebrated guitarists in the history of hard rock.
Mick and Trevor Bolder traded duelling solos in a fiery, extended "July Morning," which had to be the concert's high point. "Lady in Black" closed the show and Bernie Shaw, if he hasn't proved it across 25 years, is the Uriah Heep vocalist. While plenty of classic (and contemporary) rockers struggle to reproduce the studio vocals in a live setting, Shaw put on a clinic on pitch-perfect high notes (and the band's harmonies altogether were magnificent).
After a brief ovation, the band returned for a three-song encore and surprised again with "Free 'n' Easy" from 1977's Innocent Victim. After a searing "Bird of Prey" the requisite closer, "Easy Livin'," was almost a letdown. That said, there was absolutely no way anyone could be disappointed with Uriah Heep's performance. I sincerely hope a live record comes from this tour as this is a band still absolutely vibrant and on top of their game. Screw 'umble. These guys are 'eavy.