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URIAH HEEP - Live in Toronto

Phoenix Concert Hall Feb 12/18

With the swirling and then the pounding of 1970’s “Gypsy” coming from Phil Lanzon’s Hammond organ, Toronto classic rock aficionados knew that Uriah Heep were back in town after many, many years. Despite having four decades of concert going under this reviewer’s belt, this was my first time seeing Heep, and many in the audience were likely in the same boat. This show had an “event” feeling from the moment you walked in the door.

Despite being in their 50th year of existence, many readers may be unfamiliar with these UK rockers, as their main touring circuit is almost exclusively European, and since the mid-70s North Americans have purchased few of the 40 million copies sold of their more than two dozen albums. But the 1,000 or so faithful in attendance at the packed Phoenix knew what to expect, and were eager to show the band the respect they deserve.

After rocking through their opener, Heep then launched into and raced through the classic title track of their 1971 album Look at Yourself. By the time the second song was complete, Heep had their roaring Toronto fans right where they wanted them. Canadian lead singer Bernie Shaw was in fine voice, despite his growing beer belly and the fact that that he is just a few years short of the normal retirement age. Band founder, guitarist Mick Box is clearly still enjoying himself at the ripe young age of 70 as can be seen from his grinning throughout the set. Box, Shaw and Lanzon have been together in Heep for 32 years, and the show moves along like a well oiled machine as a result.

The strength of Uriah Heep is in their musicianship, and each member brings notable strengths on their instruments. However, like many other bands that formed in the late 1960s (I’m looking at you Nazareth and Status Quo!), their live song selection tends to rely too heavily on material from the 1970s. Heep’s heaviest and (arguably) best material is found on their albums from the last 25 years, not their first quarter century. The set highlight was the speedy (but still melodic) “Between Two Worlds” from 1998’s Sonic Origami album. The band also did two songs from their 2014 Outsider album (“The Law” and “One Minute”), but they failed to play the blistering title track, and indeed, they played no songs from their 2008 opus Wake the Sleeper, which was disappointing.

Instead, the band played the same songs that have been in their setlist for 40-odd years. However, there were enough true classics played, such as “Sunrise” “Lady in Black”, “Stealin’” and the encore “Easy Livin’” to temper any ill feelings. The band have a new album coming out later this year and threatened to come back to Canada next year. Should they return to our shores, any classic rock fan would do well to attend that event if it hits your home town.

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