Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Heavy @ Oslo Hackney, London

21 March 2023

Soulful garage rockers showcase tracks from forthcoming album with a joyous set full of sharp riffs and deep grooves

The Heavy (Photo: Tim Walter)

The Heavy (Photo: Tim Walter)

The Heavy are back with a bang. In their first gig since pre-Covid 2019, the band road tested some new tracks from their forthcoming album Amen, mixed in with some of their best-known songs from their previous five albums, at a sell-out gig at Oslo Hackney. It was the first of two shows in intimate venues before a full-scale headline tour of North America in May, followed by one of Europe and the UK in September.

Considering The Heavy have been out of live action for so long they sounded really tight in a joyous 75-minute set full of sharp riffs and deep grooves. Coming on to the accompaniment of the theme tune from Rocky, the band – Jamaican-born singer Kelvin Swaby, guitarist Daniel Taylor, bassist Spencer Page and drummer Chris Ellul – are supported by additional musicians including a trio of horn players and two female backing singers filling up the small stage. There’s no doubting the warmth of the crowd’s reception, or the band’s delight in performing live again – it’s a mutual love-in.

Although they have a hardcore following, it’s a bit of a mystery why musicians as talented as The Heavy have not enjoyed more mainstream success – a band out of time perhaps. Formed in 2007 in Bath, their brand of 1960s-influenced soulful funk garage rock is unashamedly retro in style, though they have also dabbled in hip-hop. Some of their songs have become familiar after being used in various films, TV shows, commercials, video games, and even Barack Obama’s second presidential election victory. But although their sound has made a bigger impact in the US than the UK, the band itself still has a relatively low profile after a decade and a half in the business.

None of that matters on the night when The Heavy kick off with Short Change Hero with its Ennio Morricone-style spaghetti western twanging guitar intro and irresistible bass line – as unprompted the crowd belt out the chorus. The reggae beat of Cause For Alarm also gets bodies moving (as much as is possible in the packed room), while the mellow feelgood vibe of Curse Me Good goes down well too, as do others from early in their back catalogue.

But the new songs are also embraced instantly. It’s quite a bold move to make your long-awaited comeback by playing half a dozen tracks from a yet-to-be-released album, but The Heavy pull it off with aplomb. A couple of already released singles hit the sweet spot. With its crashing drums and thunderous brass, the powerful Hurricane Coming (inspired by Swaby’s experience of Hurricane Irma soon after he moved to the States) brews up a storm. And after Swaby says, “I can feel the heat, but can I feel the love?” the crowd roar yes as the band launch into the gospel-blues number I Feel The Love with its soaring female backing vocals. New single Stone Cold Killer, though, is a disappointingly hackneyed rocker with its heavy guitar riffs and cowbell echoing American AOR from the 1970s.

Back for the encores, Swaby promises not to “short change” the fans, saying we need “call and response” – the perfect introduction to the rousing What Makes A Good Man with everyone happy to join in. The gig ends, inevitably, with The Heavy’s signature tune, the James Brown-influenced How You Like Me Now? Judging by the crowd’s full-hearted reaction the answer is: a lot.

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