Wishbone Ash, Uriah Heep, Blue Oyster Cult & Nazareth at the Commodore in Vancouver

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Twenty years ago today–on Saturday, November 6, 1993–I saw the Total Recall tour at the Commodore Ballroom. No less than four of my fave bands from the ’70s were on the bill. Here’s the review that ran in the Georgia Straight the following week.

In last week’s Straight we ran a little panel discussion wherein various local music experts put forth their thoughts on the pros and con of ’70s rock. Strong melodies, simplicity, and a positive outlook were pointed to as favourable aspects of that musical era, while the period’s excessiveness and hero worship got the thumbs-down.

Now, all five of those qualities and faults could be detected at the Commodore last Saturday, when Nazareth, Blue Oyster Cult, Uriah Heep, and Wishbone Ash shared the stage, but the bloated excess commonly attributed to ’70s rock had been seriously pared down. There were no 10-minute drum solos or interminable guitar freak-outs, no flash pots or smoke machines. You couldn’t even complain about the volume being too high!

There was a lot of hero worship going on, I’ll admit, but what’s wrong with that? I, for one, think Blue Oyster Cult’s guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser is God. He did write “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”, after all.

The marathon music fest kicked off right on time at 8 p.m., with British prog-rock greats Wishbone Ash and the sweet dual-lead guitar harmonies of “The King Will Come”, from 1972’s Argus LP.

Original members and guitarists-vocalists Andy Powell and Ted Turner were happy, smilin’ guys on “Blowin’ Free”, but the band’s uplifting set only lasted for a half-hour and didn’t include an encore. The show’s production crew was running a tight ship and had to make way for the night’s next act, Uriah Heep.

Heep was the only band among the four that didn’t include its original vocalist. Singer Bernie Shaw now holds down the position vacated long ago by David Byron, whose alcoholic antics got him fired from the band in the mid-’70s. Byron later died of a heart attack–joining OD’d bassist Gary Thain in rock ‘n’ roll heaven–but original guitarist Mick Box and longtime drummer Lee Kerslake are still alive and kicking up a Heepish storm, along with former Spiders from Mars bassist Trevor Bolder.

Amidst rowdy cries of “Heep! Heep!”, the band knocked off crusty faves such as “Stealin'” and “The WIzard” before encoring with “Easy Living” and garnering one of the wildest crowd responses of the night.

B.O.C. was up next, and the prime purveyors of ’70s heavy metal had this old riff-retainer leaping up and down to the vigorous boogie strains of “ME262”, “The Red and the Black”, and the aforementioned “Reaper”. The New York quintet–which includes original members Eric Bloom, Allen Lanier, and Roeser–misses the magic of former bass- and drum-playing brothers Joe and Albert Bouchard, but its imaginative and compelling tunes have stood the test of time. The band also premiered an impressive new track, “Harvest Moon”, which bodes well for its next album, due in the spring of ’94.

With three of its four founding members present, Scotland’s Nazareth came closest to being Total Recall’s genuine article, but my fond memories of seeing the band on its mid-’70s Loud ‘N Proud tour make current guitarist BIlly Rankin a poor excuse for original axeman Manny Charlton.

Gravelly voiced singer Dan McCafferty did hit the mark on gritty numbers like “Hair of the Dog” and Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight”, though, and you know that can’t be bad. My biggest beef was that they band didn’t perform that locally inspired ode to shady rock promoters, “Vancouver Shakedown”.

On a sad note, two of the rockers taking part in Total Recall that night–Allen Lanier and Trevor Bolder–both passed away this year.

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