Gig review: H.E.A.T. – Islington Academy, London, 21 November 2017

H.E.A.T.- Islington Academy, London, 21 November 2017

H.E.A.T.’s return to the stage, hot on the heels of their long delayed, controversial but in my view excellent ‘Into The Great Unknown’ album, was eagerly anticipated. However November is a notoriously crowded month in the gig calendar, which this may have accounted for the Academy being less than full with even space for the merch stall in the main room.

Three bands were on the bill beginning with Black Diamonds. The Swiss rockers were quite sleazy and certainly looked the part, notably bassist Andi Fassler in his zebra striped suit. However the music was rather basic, not helped by the fact that both main singer Mich Kehl and Andi had rather harsh voices. Nevertheless their sense of enthusiasm transmitted itself to the crowd as they ended with the pick of their own songs ‘Hands of Destiny’ and a cover of ‘Rock n Roll Music’.

Black Diamonds - Islington Academy, London, 21 November 2017

Photo:Andy Nathan

H.E.A.T.’s fellow Swedes Degreed are a more experienced proposition and four albums in have been receiving rave reviews from some of the melodic rock community, particularly for an ambitious sound that avoids some of the genre’s easy stereotypes.

Having a keyboard player out front next to man-bunned singer Robin Eriksson was a good sign yet opening numbers ‘Black Cat’ and ‘Sugar’ had me aghast with a heavy, complex feel owing as much to Dream Theater than Journey, though on the subject of the latter my jaw dropped when they delivered a rocked up cover of Steve Perry’s ‘Captured By the Moment’.

Mid set they were interrupted by guests as Erik Gronwall, resplendent in a Swedish football shirt (I hope no Italians were present!) and his H.E.A.T. bandmates invaded the stage to present them with champagne.

Degreed - Islington Academy, London, 21 November 2017

Photo: Andy Nathan

The set continued to be varied with ‘War’ in heavy territory, but I found ‘If Love is a Game’ and ‘Shakedown’, the latter with a catchy groove, more enjoyable and ‘A Little Bit’ was the melodic gem of the set. They certainly defy pigeonholing but I must admit to finding hard to fully embrace their eclectic sound.

H.E.A.T. came on to their customary strains of ‘The Heat Is On’ and opened, as on the new album, with ‘Bastard Of Society’, which with its ‘who-oah’ chant was every bit as good a live anthem as I anticipated and set the tone for an energetic set.

H.E.A.T.- Islington Academy, London, 21 November 2017

It was followed by a pair from their 2008 debut and while ‘Late Night Lady’ has been a set staple, ‘Straight For Your Heart’ didn’t quite gel with the band’s tougher and more aggressive sound these days, though guitarist Dave Dalone was back in the fold as if he had never been away with some classy solos as well as giving the band more of a glam image.

What we now have to think of as old favourites like ‘Mannequin Show’ with its cheeky lift of the ‘Oops I Did It Again’ melody nestled alongside songs from the new album – including one of the controversial changes of sound in ‘Redefined’ which saw Robin Eriksson return to the stage to duet, and the smouldering title track.

H.E.A.T.- Islington Academy, London, 21 November 2017

However it is the incredible presence of singer Erik Gronwall that makes a HEAT show stand out from the crowd. He has always had a manic energy but this now seems to have been honed and focused as he has relaxed into the role, constantly smiling and showing an infectious joie de vivre.

He had already dived into the front of the crowd and also donned a fan’s black bra when during traditional participation number ‘Beg Beg Beg’, he went deep into the audience and was singing from the top of the Academy’s left hand bar as they slipped ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ and ‘Piece Of My Heart’ into the song.

H.E.A.T.- Islington Academy, London, 21 November 2017

In contrast he delivered ‘We Rule’ beautifully, accompanied only by Jona Tee’s piano playing, while the controversial single ‘Time On Our Side’ actually nestled in the set quite comfortably. After a drum solo from Crash to the accompaniment of the ‘Flash Gordon’ theme the band returned with the pair of fist punching,  jump in the air anthems from their first album with Erik, ‘Address The Nation’ in ‘Breaking The Silence’ and ‘Living On The Run’, the latter featuring a fine solo from Dave.

H.E.A.T.- Islington Academy, London, 21 November 2017

Before their career pause, I was used to these being the encores and for a while the set paled in comparison even with the epic ‘Eye Of The Storm’ from the new album and a sassy ‘In And Out Of Trouble’, while I was partly bemused and partly offended when one of Erik’s many T-shirts paid tribute to controversial right-wing writer Ayn Rand.

The fun only increased when one of the band’s entourage was offered the chance to drum during ‘Emergency’, while Crash sauntered into the crowd, my partner and I even grabbing a mid set selfie with him, while ‘Shit City’ and ‘Inferno’ ended the set in heavier and more aggressive fashion.

The conundrum of why the traditional encores had been moved was solved when the opening cuts from the previous ‘Tearing Down the Walls’ album now fitted naturally in that slot, in the stadium ready anthems of ‘Point of No Return’ and ‘A Shot at Redemption’ with an even more hyperactive than usual Erik leading the chorus.

H.E.A.T.- Islington Academy, London, 21 November 2017

But this being the last night of the tour, we got the bonus of the party continuing as both support bands joined a crowded stage, swigging more champers and having fun with a medley of ‘Lucille’ and ‘Johnny B Goode’ and even ‘Highway to Hell’, taking the set well past the 11 o’clock curfew and lifting an already fun night to a new level.

Musically this may not have been a vintage H.E.A.T. show, not helped by an unflattering sound mix, but for pure entertainment it ranked eleven on a ten scale. Be in no doubt they are one of the standard bearers for a new generation of would be arena rockers and as word spreads of their remarkable dynamism and Gronwall-inspired energy as a live act, the missing people are sure to come back for the next show.

Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Robert Sutton (except where indicated)

Album review (Into The Great Unknown)

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