Review by Paul Quinton, photos by Lisa Billingham
When a festival as popular and respected in rock circles as Firefest describes one particular band as their ‘favourite sons’, the chances are that they’re something special, and anyone who’s seen H.E.A.T. live will know exactly what I’m talking about. The Slade Rooms was pretty full for this gig, which, if there’s any justice might be the last chance to see this band in such an intimate venue.
Before the main event, we had a decent set from the Sherlock Brothers; a Swedish band with a sound pitched somewhere between Black Stone Cherry and Classic 70s metal. They have some good songs, and vocalist Andre Andersson (not the Royal Hunt keyboard maestro, I should point out) worked really hard to get the crowd involved, even encouraging a singalong at one stage, which shows a degree of confidence for a support band. Eventually they got the response their hard work deserved and they got a good reception from a rapidly growing crowd. A good band, well worth watching for in the future, and on a final, muso note, kudos to guitarist Marcus Hellgren for having one of the nicest guitars I’ve seen on a stage for a while, what looked like a Gibson Explorer with a red lacquered finish. Nice.
So the headliners and the final date of a short UK stint following their all-conquering appearance at the very last Firefest. As their familiar intro tape of Glenn Frey’s ‘The Heat Is On’ began, the Slade Rooms seemed to get even fuller, and when H.E.A.T. finally made their entrance to start the show with ‘Point Of No Return’, the place erupted with possibly the loudest welcome I’ve heard in the venue. Unlike one of the previous times I’ve seen the band, tonight the sound was spot on, really good, even if Erik Gronwall’s vocals occasionally got a little lost in the mix. As for Gronvall himself, he really is the most amazingly energetic frontman I have ever seen, From opening note to the end of the encores, he never stops moving, at various times standing on the barrier of the photo pit, climbing up the PA to swing on the lighting rig, running from one side of the stage to other, almost as if he’s afraid to stand still for more than a moment at a time.
As might be expected, the bulk of the set was dominated by the band’s most recent album, Tearing Down The Walls, which, with the majority of the rest coming from the previous album, meant that there were only two songs from the era of the Kenny Lekremo-fronted era of the band. While this has meant a move into a slightly heavier direction, it has also meant that the band’ s set has a far more muscular presence, and added even more to the band’s show. Nor is there any sign of anything lacking in the band’s sound since the departure of second guitarist Dave Dalone in 2013. If anything they seem more powerful than ever, and yet still producing excellent songs, packed with memorable riffs and choruses.
There was a nod to the time of year during ‘Beg, Beg, Beg’ when Erik Gronvall invited the crowd to join in with a chorus of ‘Deck The Halls’, as well as a portion of ‘Highway Star’ in the same song, and what the appearance on stage of someone wearing a gorilla suit for the intro to ‘Tearing Down The Walls’ was about I have no idea, but it was well in keeping with the spirit of sheer enjoyment running through both band and audience. Even guitarist Eric Rivers joined Gronvall at the barrier during a brilliant performance of the atmospheric ‘Downtown’, surely the best song Jim Peterik never wrote.
If there is to be a criticism of the show, which otherwise was one of the best I had seen all year, it was that it was a little short. Even with a drum solo and Jona Tee’s keyboard showcase, the main set lasted a little over 65 minutes, and although there was a generous encore, including what seemed like an unplanned ‘Laughing At Tomorrow’ to close the show, it did seem to pass by all too quickly. Nevertheless an absolutely brilliant show, which I defy anyone to have left without a huge smile. H.E.A.T. are next due in the UK to appear at HRH AOR in March, and some of the other names on the bill had best be on their mettle, because this band are capable of stealing any show you can name.