There are a lot of things to be said about British Lion, and you'll hear them all out there. Some are probably the music business doing their thing, some are just people speculating. I think it does a disservice to simply say it's “Steve Harris's other band” or his “solo project” or anything of the sort. Steve Harris – legendary founder and bass player of Iron Maiden – started as the band's manager and was helping produce and write with them. After the original line-up of the band split up, Harris jumped in deeper, pulling out his signature bass to team with singer Richard Taylor, guitarists David Hawkins and Graham Leslie, and Simon Dawson on the drums and form a new band from the ashes of the previous one. If there's one thing that we know from Iron Maiden, it's that Harris knows talent, and British Lion is no different in that department. Make no mistake, though: This is not “Maiden part 2” or “Maiden Light.” British Lion is a different animal, and there's no clearer delivery of that message than when they hit the stage, as they did last Wednesday night at The Forge in Joliet, IL.
Starting the show off was Chicago hard-rock outfit Comfort Scarcity. Since jumping into the fray back in 2014, this band has made a name for themselves as a hard-working, hard-hitting band that's become one of the go-to acts to open up rock bills all around the area. Front man and rhythm guitarist Tim Jensen leads off with incredible vocals and an amazing stage presence that you simply can't ignore. Flanked by Dan Valente on lead guitar and Frank Arena's thundering bass, with Tommy Salzburg behind the kit to tie it all together, they're a tight unit that absolutely grabs your attention and holds it tight in their fist. With tracks like “Target Acquired,” “Comfort Inside,” and “Caution Signs,” keep the name Comfort Scarcity in mind. This isn't going to be the last time you hear it, I'm certain.
The middle of the ticket was just as solid, with German duo The Picturebooks delivering a truly unique set. Fronted by Fynn Claus Grabke on the mic and with guitars and mandolins galore, and paired with Philipp Mirtschink on a very cool drum kit – which appeared to my eye to lack a single cymbal, but had a big bell, and a hanging sheet of metal that makes a beautiful crashing-thunder sound – the pair are like a manic force of nature. One of the highlights of the set, though, had to be the pure fun exuding from Grabke. Between numbers like “Learn It The Hard Way” and “I Need That Oooh,” he chatted with the crowd, laughed, and just genuinely seemed to be having a great time. Two stand-out numbers for me – no surprise for anyone that knows me! – were “Howling Wolf” and “The Rabbit and the Wolf,” but every song they played just had a deep, almost spiritual groove that was inescapable. They pulled the audience in and took them along for the ride.
(As a side note, Grabke also announced from the stage that the show was held on the birthday of his father and the band's soundboard operator, Claus Grabke, so an extra thanks to the elder Grabke for spending your birthday on the road to bring these shows to us.)
The main event of the night kicked off when the five guys from British Lion blasted their way onto the stage, taking no prisoners right from the jump. If bands like UFO or Thin Lizzy had been formed in the early 21st century rather than in the latter half of the 20th, this would be pretty close to the result. With Taylor's smooth vocals and dynamic range, the band has a sound that glides smoothly across the line between epic and melodic without becoming overbearing, delivering personal messages without becoming preachy. Harris's hand in the writing can certainly be felt, but – as I stated before – it's not just the sound you might expect, warped for different player. Harris is deft at crafting tunes, and working with Taylor and Hawkins as his primary co-writers, their styles all blend smoothly into this new sound.
All of that comes through in the band's pair of albums, of course, but when they hit the stage, it's a whole different world. This band seems like they were born to play live, and more, born to play live together. Harris moves around the stage like a conductor of an orchestra, working every angle, including the packed house in front of the stage. Taylor, on the other hand, holds the center like the Greeks at Thermopylae, commanding attention with the power of his voice and lyrics. The left and right flanks of the stage are well-tended by Hawkins and Leslie – both are tall lads, and certainly won't be missed in any crowd! – who come across as being serious about the work of having a good time. Dawson, behind the kit, is a truly animated figure, and is just a joy to watch, both from a technical standpoint and from a purely entertainment point of view.
All of these pieces come together in a perfect blend of sound and visual display that is exactly what a rock show should be. There's no explosions outside of the music being made, nothing that pulls attention away from the songs being played. To be sure, I love those things, too, but this band is, as I said, a different animal. Songs like “This is My God,” “Spit Fire” and “The Chosen Ones” stand on their own to pull you in, musically, lyrically, and visually when you watch the band. Even on stage, Taylor admits they don't have a lot of songs that the crowd joins in on. This isn't a detriment, though: British Lion comes to put on a show, and they want to deliver that, and ask the audience to let them carry the load. Trust them to do it. They're excellent at it!
The night wrapped up with “A World Without Heaven” and “Eyes of the Young” from the first album, leaving the crowd screaming for more. It's like this band has played these crowds for the last decade as opposed to this being their first ever US tour. While there were, without a question, fans there to see Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, I fully stand by the idea that the vast majority of people in the room left as fans of British Lion. And I, for one, can't wait for their next run through the neighborhood.