Thursday, October 13, 2011 – BB King’s Blues Club and Grill
“I’m as Irish as they come, but Saxon makes me wish I was British,” reads a Youtube comment for one of Saxon’s videos. For this smashingly British band, the North American tour gave them an excuse to release a tour edition shirt featuring the band logo behind a fully-armored knight carrying an American flag. Naturally, such a shirt became one of my possessions after this show, in which the noble knights of old rode down upon BB King’s Club in New York City.
New Wave of British Heavy Metal, as I’ve said elsewhere, is my favorite form of metal, and getting to see the legendary Saxon in such an intimate atmosphere was an excellent birthday gift.
The Barnsley, South Yorkshire natives have had the good fortune to play some of the biggest heavy metal festivals in the world, including many repeat appearances at Wacken Open Air and Donington Rock, but have never lost that fun, classic, good-time sound that makes them such a draw to venues of any size–whether it seats 500 people or 50,000.
Opening support was provided by power metal group Borealis. Although they weren’t bad at all, their keyboard-heavy power metal sounded a bit out of place when followed by the tough, sweaty, more basic Saxon. That’s no knock on Borealis, but other fans weren’t so forgiving:
“These guys make fuckin’ Blind Guardian look good,” someone slurred while standing in line for the men’s room. (Yes fans, I know…how dare he disparage Blind Guardian).
But as soon as the shaggy-haired Biff Byford appeared with his band, the English-countryside, outdoor-festival atmosphere was present. Standing only a few feet away from stage left, I was treated to 30 years of Saxon tunes. BB King’s, packed with fans, was transformed. Songs both old and new got a tremendous boost from the additional guitars and double-bass drumming, though the old songs received much more of a kick. Classic songs like “Strangers In the Night’ and “Motorcycle Man” were now played with the emphasis and umph they deserved. “A Call To Arms” was their latest studio album at the time that continued Saxon’s commitment to classic metal themes of war, peace, and of course, motorcycles.
- Hammer of the Gods
- Heavy Metal Thunder
- Never Surrender
- Chasing the Bullet
- Motorcycle Man
- Back in ’79
- And the Bands Played On
- To Hell and Back Again
- Battalions of Steel
- Call to Arms
- Rock ‘n’ Roll Gypsy
- Mists of Avalon
- This Town Rocks
- When Doomsday Comes (Hybrid Theory)
- Denim and Leather
- Princess of the Night
- Guitar Solo
- 747 (Strangers in the Night)
- Power and the Glory
- Bass Solo
- Strong Arm of the Law
- Wheels of Steel
The fine gentlemen of Saxon look like a grisly pub band because for many years, they were–and they told the stories to prove it. Biff talked about his memories of the first Donington festival for “And the Bands Played On”:
“We were there…there was us, Judas Priest…Rainbow…Motorhead…all of us.” You got the impression that he was trying to describe something that simply could’t be put into words, but somehow you still got it. I’ll also remember headbanging so hard to “Wheels of Steel” that I nearly passed out.
But my most profound memory of this Saxon show came during the song “Denim and Leather,” a sendup for the fans, especially the earliest ones camping overnight outside record stores for new releases and reading the fanzines from back to front (you all know the ones). It clearly meant a lot to Biff: “This is all about you, the fans! And what you wear–denim and leather! And generations of metal fans, fathers, sons…and apparently, grandsons,” he added as something in the crowd caught his attention.
I followed his gaze, and I couldn’t believe it: standing in the middle of the crowd was an aging headbanger with long, graying hair, dressed exactly as the song described in denim and leather–he was practically a spitting image of Biff.
Sitting on this guy’s shoulders, dressed exactly alike, was a little boy who couldn’t have been older than 9 or 10. What a sight.
Again, I was reminded of what a powerful traditional metal is becoming (hell, has always been) for people. And like the metal royalty they are, Saxon reminded us of what it was all about:
“Denim! And leather! Brought us all together! It was you…who set the spirit free!”
Written by Matt P