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(Don’t Fear) The Birthdays: Enjoying a Heep ö’ Cult

July 19, 2015

Homer Knows!

I am not bothered at all by old rockers continuing to tour.  In fact, I take great solace in having folk from the generation prior to mine still up there getting paid for performing their songs and bringing the joy.  Here in the early days of my second half century, I’m pleased as punch to see musicians in their 60s and 70s happily rocking out.  I’m not put off by graying/balding heads, added pounds, or knee-protecting, toned-down stage antics.  As long as it feels sincere and the band doesn’t half-ass the music itself, I’ll sign on for the ride and be thrilled to do so.  I find that such shows validate my continuing enthusiasm for the rock-and-roll dreams of my youth and reinforce the idea that one is never too old to be carried away.

During early 2015, I had the good fortune to see two worthy groups of geezers put their talents on display at a couple of clubs in the Washington D.C. area.  On 31 January, it was Blue Öyster Cult at the Tally Ho Theater in Leesburg, Virginia, followed by Uriah Heep at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, on 25 February.  Both shows were a blast; I came out of each with voice hoarse from whoo-whooing at the top of my lungs, cheek muscles sore from involuntary over-smiling, and fandom ever-deepened.  While similar in effect however, the concerts differed in that one offered a wonderful nostalgic romp through time-tested winners, while the other mixed oldies but goodies with new offerings.  I dug both, but I must say it was the band that actively sought to convince me of their still-vibrant creativity that left the longest lasting post-show impression.  There’s something to be said for an elder-statesman band confident enough to foist new sounds on an audience even as they pay happy, respectful homage to the past glories that brought out the evening’s crowd.

This was my second BÖC concert, the first having been a 1980 show I wrote about previously.  By 2015, only lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Eric Bloom and lead guitarist/vocalist Buck Dharma remained from the band I saw in 1980, but given their distinctive playing and singing, there was little doubt about the authenticity of the latter-day sound.  Eric and Buck were backed up by fantastic players, and there was no quibbling with the set list.Blue Oyster Cult- Mirrors  Heavy on enduring stalwarts such as “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” “Godzilla,” “Burnin’ for You,” and “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll,” the band also made this fan’s night by offering up personal favorite “Then Came the Last Days of May” with its moody, mournful guitar.  Including both the space-aliens-as-saviors gallop of “The Vigil” and the absent-love lament “In Thee” from the underrated 1979 album Mirrors was an additional, unexpected pleasure.

Buck Dharma did not appear to have lost any of his unique guitar skills over the years.  His trademark chugging riffs and emotive leads were on display all night.  An extended run through “Buck’s Boogie” demonstrated clearly that the aging process had not dampened either the speed or the groove in his fingers.  Likewise, both Buck’s and Eric’s voices were spot on, with no perceptible fudges or down-tunings apparent.  The “newest” tune presented was 1983’s “Shooting Shark,” which along with the previously mentioned “Burnin’ for You” were the only two non-70s offerings in the 15-song set.  All-in-all it was a glorious night, fueled by a supportive crowd awash in blissful nostalgia.  I’d see BÖC again in a heartbeat.

Blue Oyster Cult (then - 1980)

Blue Öyster Cult (1980): Eric left, Buck second from right

Blue Oyster Cult (now-2015)

Blue Öyster Cult (2015): Eric left, Buck second from right

While I own an even dozen Öyster albums and have done for 30-plus years, I could only claim two Uriah Heep LPs, both recorded in 1972, as part of my collection as of the February 2015 show.  I purchased a vinyl copy of Uriah Heep - Demons and WizardsDemons and Wizards many moons ago as a teenager and picked up a used copy of The Magician’s Birthday on CD a few years back.  I enjoy both albums and also knew and loved all the 70s radio hits, so when I saw the Heep was going to be in town, I didn’t think twice before signing up.  A quick internet search informed me that only lead guitarist Mick Box remained from those 1970s glory days but I figured I probably wasn’t enough of a Heep connoisseur to tell the difference.  Besides, the tickets were so cheap, what was there to lose?

As it turned out, I didn’t need the nostalgia factor to enjoy the hell out of theUriah Heep - Outsider show.  The band was six songs in before they played anything I’d heard before and they inserted five songs from the new album Outsider that they were touring behind into their 12-song set.  The new songs were hard-rocking tours de force tightly played by master musicians.  These old guys sounded as crisp and vibrant as many bands a third their age, with the added seasoning of lived-in experience.

Mick Box

Mick Box

But here’s the kicker: When the 2015 version of Uriah Heep dipped into the back catalog, they did so with a palpable joy and fun-loving respect.  One sensed that they were honored to be playing those songs for us.  As current singer Bernie Shaw introduced the over-10-minute “The Magician’s Birthday,” he spoke for all of us when he verbalized our sincere gratitude and awe for those gloriously goofy days of yore when such naively progtastic offerings could materialize.  “Sunrise” was beautiful, “Stealin’” was rowdy fun, and the encore of “Easy Livin’” had us all standing and singing along enthusiastically.  And throughout, a relatively stationary Mick Box made up for his seeming lack of mobility with fantastic, meaty guitar playing, regularly topped off with perfectly-placed elegant flourishes.

Sure, I would have liked to also hear “The Wizard” or “July Morning” but I give these guys their props; they earned my attention to their new music.  I’ve since purchased Outsider and, while it is far removed from their prog-rock 70s output, fans of early 80s outlier album Abominog, will find it easily as head-banging but with much better songwriting.

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So, two elderly bands in two months, one milking past glories for all they’re worth but doing so uncynically, and the other demonstrating righteous pride in prior accomplishments while also asking us to consider their current ability to create.  I approve wholeheartedly of both visions.  I’m happy to be made happy, whether by old or by new.  That said, here’s hoping that, for my part, I’m lucky enough to still be throwing fresh ingredients into the pot 20 years hence.

Blue Oyster Cult - Leesburg

 

Uriah Heep - Birchmere

From → Music

8 Comments
  1. Sounds like great shows. And I’ll need to check out the new Heep stuff. I think the most recent album of theirs I own is Abominog!

  2. You know Charles Dickens was at school with Mick Box and the rest of Uriah Heep? its where he got the name of the character in David Copperfield from. True story.

  3. Sometimes these elder statesmen can show the younger generations a thing or two. It sounds like these two concerts really rocked. Have you tried Uriah Heep’s “Abominog” album? I visited it a couple if months ago on my blog and was very surprised at it.

    • Yeah, I remember your post and believe I commented on it. I had just picked up Abominog myself a few weeks prior. With a few months of living with it now, I can say that I like the album well enough but, for my own personal taste, the proggier stuff they did prior and the more hard rock-leaning output of late appeals to me more than the one-off that was Abominog. I’m just less sure it played to UH’s strengths. I’m still glad to own it and it will continue to get spins though…

  4. Fantastic reviews, Mr V. You certainly found the most receptive seat in the house for both shows and fearlessly reaped the benefit. I really enjoyed hearing the argument FOR old stagers keeping on keeping on, and though I don’t think my position has changed, I am chuffed on your behalf that a good time was had by all. Anything that results in cheek smile-ache is a jolly good show.

    I’ll pop a link back here on your comments on my Heep post.

    http://vinylconnection.com.au/2015/05/11/yesterdays-tomorrow/

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