With the loss of their singer after their first two albums, H.E.A.T might have worried their rapid rise would falter, especially as Kenny Leckremo had an incredible range and a soaring voice that sprawled all over those bombastic choruses.
Recruiting the young (24 when he joined the band) and relatively inexperienced Erik Grönwall (winner of Swedish Idol) seemed a risky move. He has an unusual pedigree and he made it plain he isn’t really a fan of AOR but very much a punk/metalhead. His solo output showed what a marvellous voice he had but was he rock band frontman material and how would he fit in?
A potential lack of affinity for their music, a lack of touring nouse and a perception amongst us snooty writer types that he’s a packaged pop star just seemed like a weird recipe. But H.E.A.T are no dummies. They recognised his huge talent and commitment and with Erik they have knocked out two more stunning albums – arguably even better than the first pair.
Their latest platter, “Tearing Down The Walls” features anthems that Desmond Child and Jon Bon Jovi wish they’d written. Such gloriously uncontrived, catchy songs merit a live airing and it’s worthy of note that on their recent UK jaunt in December 2014 they bashed out 8 songs from it, such is their ballsy confidence in the new material.
Rewind to April 2014 and the band packed out the infamous Garage venue and tore through a set spanning all 4 albums with a few more of the oldies on show.
As I have already experienced, on stage there is an almost ovberabundance of youthful enthusiasm (at least I assume it’s that rather than too much coke) from Erik as he leaps, bounds, spins, air-boxes, air-guitars and slides around like Iggy Pop in his heyday. There is a palpable sense of rock star about him. He doesn’t appear to be trying either – he just exudes confidence and joy from start to finish.
Launching into the opener from their last album, ‘Point Of No Return’, my initial concern is the lack of guitar in the mix. Having gone from a twin lead attack to relying solely on Eric Rivers‘ talents, there feels like a slight lack of punch, but as things settle in the riffing rises and complements Jona Tee‘s keys perfectly.
This album also confirms that it is in the live environment where Erik‘s voice really comes to the fore. With a little more rasp than on the album and a rather unrestrained ebullience, one wonders how his vocal cords make it through a tour, but there is no doubt that he nails every number with aplomb.
Anthem after anthem follows, all delivered with class and spirit. “Live In London” really does what so many similar outings fail to do – it perfectly captures the sweaty gig vibe, and although studio cuts often have an arguably better mix and production, the sheen on the earlier H.E.A.T stuff was always a little too much for me and this has some balls to it.
No band can pick the perfect please-em-all set list, and “Better Off Alone” does very little live or on record and in many ways there are some less formulaic and heavier songs they could have slotted in to vary the pace, but that is a very minor criticism.
Not having the pop shimmer of ‘1,000 Miles’ in their recent set list was disappointing as I wanted to hear how Erik sounded giving it some extra edge, so it’s pleasing to hear it leap out of the speakers here, sounding fresh as a daisy, albeit a daisy with a studded leather jacket and a cigarette.
There is so much more personality and warmth to his voice than Kenny had that the song is transformed from Europop with guitars to a full fat rock singalong.
The fast-paced attack of ‘Inferno’ is a keen reminder of the substantial talents of bassist Jimmy Jay and drum maniac Crash and also how well the whole band steps up on backing vocals. Many bands of this ilk rely on backing tapes which seems such a shame, but then many of them need it. H.E.A.T sound magnificent at every stage of this performance.
‘Tearing Down The Walls’ is the highlight here and is destined to become a classic. The guitar is way more present than on the titular album and it drives the song forward nicely. The “Oh god what Abba song does this remind me of?!” bombast of ‘Mannequin Show’ follows on neatly and then another early cheesetastic classic in the form of ‘Late Night Lady’ gets the crowd singing along yet again. Ratt, eat your hearts out.
More audience bellowing abounds during ‘Downtown’, ‘Enemy In Me’ and ‘Breaking The Silence’ and they round out the set with the AOR loveliness of ‘Living On The Run’. Managing to sound like incredibly mature songwriters and having amassed two dozen classic anthems in a brief back catalogue of 4 albums since 2009 is mightily impressive, but spewing this much youthful exuberance onto a stage night after night is testament to what a great live act they are.
Having only seen them for the first time a few months ago I wish I’d seen them sooner and have had this CD on pre-order for a while. Hopefully it will keep me going until they hit these shores again. Make sure you catch them at Download festival in June.