Uriah Heep/The Gramercy Theatre/Feb. 22, 2018
In 1967, 19-year-old guitarist Mick Box formed a band called Hogwash in Brentwood, England. When the singer left, some of the band members formed a new group called Spice, which in 1969 became Uriah Heep — named after the character in Charles Dickins’ novel David Copperfield. The band sold over 40 million albums worldwide with over 4 million sales in the U.S., but the band’s audience declined by the 1980s. After many personnel changes, Uriah Heep currently consists of Box, lead vocalist Bernie Shaw, keyboardist Phil Lanzon, bassist Davey Rimmer and drummer Russell Gilbrook. Uriah Heep’s 26th studio album, Living the Dream, is expected to be released in the fall of 2018.
For most of Uriah Heep’s career in the United States, the band was frequently a support act for a major headliner. Some 50 years after it all began, Uriah Heep headlined at the Gramercy Theatre with a set comprised mostly of its best-known songs from 1970 to 1973. While only Mick Box has remained in the band from that golden period, the rest of the band did well not to directly copy the older arrangements. The musicians jammed in the spirit of the originals while giving the songs their familiar, epic crescendos. Combining hard rock and progressive rock, the songs blended soaring vocals, fantasy lyrics, searing lead guitar runs and massive organ rolls. Some of the songs lasted 10 to 15 minutes. Bands rarely create this kind of music anymore, so welcome to the ingenuity and experimentation of the 1970s.
Dirkschneider/The Gramercy Theatre/Feb. 23, 2018
Born in Wuppertal, Germany, vocalist Udo Dirkschneider grew up in nearby Solingen and there started his musical career in 1968 at age 16 with Band X. The band’s name was changed to Accept in 1971, but with numerous changes in its initial years, Accept did not solidify as a band until 1976, achieving worldwide success in the mid-1980s. After seven albums with Accept, the heavy metal band fired Dirkschneider in 1987, and he formed U.D.O., which would record new music but also perform many Accept songs in concert. Dirkschneider rejoined Accept for three more albums in the 1990s, left in 1996, and Accept split in 1997. Dirkschneider rejoined Accept in 2005 for a short-lived reunion, but the band split again, reassembling in 2009 with another singer. U.D.O. has released 15 studio albums, the most recent in 2015. In 2016, Dirkschneider announced that he would form a new band, called Dirkschneider, in which he would perform his Accept catalogue for the last time. Dirkschneider released a live album, Live – Back To The Roots, in 2016, and extended its tour into 2018 to include more Accept songs. The band Dirkschneider presently consists of Dirkschneider, guitarists Andrey Smirnov and Bill Hudson, bassist Fitty Wienhold, and Dirkschneider’s 24-year-old son, drummer Sven Dirkschneider. At the conclusion of this tour, the vocalist will reconvene U.D.O. and never again perform Accept songs live.
The audience at the Gramercy Theatre chanted, “U-do, U-do, U-do,” the lights darkened, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s “Fire” boomed from the speakers, and the musicians began taking their places and launched into “The Beast Inside.” Dirkschneider began his vocals off stage, finally coming center stage to the cheers of his fans. The band Dirkschneider performed a fast-paced all Accept two-hour concert, highlighting both the strength of Dirkschneider’s vocals and Accept’s discography. The 65-year-old singer charged into the set with his coarse, snarly voice, and the band supplied roaring guitar leads, thick metal riffs and driving rhythms. The combination was ideal. The band performed all of the Accept mainstays, including “London Leatherboys,” “Living for Tonite,” “Screaming for a Love Bite,” “Metal Heart,” “Fast as a Shark,” and “Balls to the Wall,” but deep cuts that had not been performed for a long time, including “Can’t Stand the Night,” “Aiming High” and “Russian Roulette,” made the show far more than a cash grab. Fans upstairs left with a trajectory for the future: a sign in the balcony read “Dirkschneider returns to U.D.O. – new album coming August 2018.”
Garland Jeffreys/City WInery/Feb. 24, 2018
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, biracial singer and songwriter, Garland Jeffreys, was already singing when he attended university in Syracuse, NY, a school he selected because Jackie Robinson had attended there. Once back in New York City, Jeffreys sang in Greenwich Village folk clubs, and became among the first artists to sing about race relations, sometimes utilizing blackface masks and a rag doll named Ramon in performance. In 1969 he founded the short-lived Woodstock-based Grinder’s Switch; when the band dissolved in 1970, Jeffreys resumed his solo career. His blend of rock, reggae and soul was perpetually critically-acclaimed but never sold well; his best-known song, “Wild in the Streets,” has been covered many times, however. Jeffreys’ fourteenth album, 14 Steps to Harlem, was released on April 28, 2017.
As the concert at City Winery began, Garland Jeffreys introduced his daughter, 22-year-old Savannah Rae Jeffreys, then left the stage as she crooned two sweet songs — the first played solo on piano and the second backed by her dad’s band. From there on, her dad marched into a fiery performance beginning with an enthralling interpretation of Leon Russell‘s “A Song for You” and ending with the Velvet Underground‘s “I’m Waiting for the Man.” Between those bookends, Jeffreys seemed to marry literary and musical visions as he sang original songs that spoke of personal life challenges, societal strife and the unique realities the New York experience. Even when his profound lyrics lilted to the bittersweet, his gutsy vocal delivery resonated with resilience. “Wild in the Streets,” a song Jeffreys wrote after hearing about a pre-teen rape and murder, rocked harder with a guest appearance by British guitarist Brinsley Schwarz. Still rocking at 74 years old, Jeffreys proved to be a first-class yet underrated artist who modestly lives in a legacy that is straining to be revealed to the masses.
The Zombies/City Winery/Feb. 27, 2018
In 1958 in St Albans, Hertfordshire, England, keyboardist Rod Argent jammed with his school mates. Vocalist Colin Blunstone, who was from nearby Hatfield, joined in 1961. The band was originally called the Mustangs, but discovering that other bands used that name, became the Zombies. Winning a recording contract through a beat-group competition, the Zombies hit with “She’s Not There” in 1964, selling over one million copies. The Zombies also hit in the U.S. with “Tell Her No” in 1965, then “Time of the Season” in 1968, even though the band had split in 1967. Blunstone recorded solo albums and Argent led a rock band called Argent. The Zombies reunited briefly in 1991, then Blunstone and Argent reunited in 2000 as Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent and moved to the US in 2001. Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent recorded an album and performed live into 2004, when the duo rebranded as the Zombies. The Zombies released albums of new material in 2004, 2011, and the sixth and most recent album, Still Got That Hunger, in 2015. In 2017 the four surviving original members (Blunstone, Argent, Chris White, and Hugh Grundy) re-united to tour in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Zombies’ second album, Odessey & Oracle. The current touring band consists of Blunstone, Argent, guitarist Tom Toomey, bassist Soren Køch, and drummer Steve Rodford.
Considering that the nascent band formed 60 years ago, the Zombies sounded remarkably alive and fresh at City Winery. Blunstone breathed airy musical scales with his gentle, feathery voice to Argent’s artistic keyboard whirls, paying tribute to Zombies music and cover songs from the 1960s while also venturing into soft-rock melodies for the present time. Still a pop band, but not tuned into modern stylings, the performance was cut from an old cloth and honored classic traditions with sophisticated melodies, rich harmonies, elegant arrangements, and complex instrumental progressions. These pop veterans performed their set with fluid, lyrical beauty, and while not every song was memorable, they were performed in such refined taste that it could have led a listener to wonder why we ever left the 1960s.