I went to go see Saxon tonight on Thursday the 4th December 2014 at the HMV Ritz in Manchester, England. The ticket said doors 6.30, over at 10. Saxon were to be supported by fellow ‘80s British Metal band Hell (recently rejuvenated, and musical home of Andy Sneap).
It turns out that the evening got re-organized. Beyond The Black, a German Power Metal band were added to the bill, which was a nice addition.
Beyond The Black sounded like a bit of a mixture between Accept, Sabaton and Stratovarius (although a toned down one) at times. They had a female singer and a keyboard player but weren’t either symphonic or operatic, nor were they in the Evanescence mould either… it was good solid traditional Heavy Metal from Europe. Or at least that’s what it sounded like in the Hall, who knows what a record producer could do to them?
Interestingly, their rhythm section locked into these very Slipknot grooves at times that seemed very modern and out of place in the Euro-Metal thing if you thought about it (but of course, flowed naturally if you weren’t scrutinizing it looking for things to write about).
I quite liked them. I’d be happy to see them again.
Next came Hell. I knew of them, but hadn’t heard anything. Hoo boy. It was interesting. Very theatric. Very very theatric. It was like watching King Diamond or Queensryche when they do Mindcrime with all the acting. He dressed up in a cloak like a wizard. He stripped topless and self-flagellated with a whip… there were smoke cannons and very theatric lighting. Interestingly though, either the smoke cannons were unreliable or the person operating them had never seen Hell before because they were so badly out of time it was really distracting.
This was the first Metal gig I’ve ever went to with my girlfriend, and she was baffled by this. Or amused to the point of laughing. I was baffled to the point of laughing too. Musically, it was pretty awesome. Quite traditional, sort of like a mixture between early Queensryche and Savatage’s most Power Metal moments (think ‘The Needle Lies’ and ‘Power Of The Night’) mixed with Cradle Of Filth’s less heavy sections (think ‘Better To Reign In Hell’)… oh and a big huge dose of Mercyful Fate. The singer was like a very strange mixture between King Diamond and Van Der Graaf Generator’s Peter Hammil… listen to VDGG’s ‘Killer’ or ‘Arrow’ and you’ll probably see what I mean. His whole thing was performed like he was in a musical or a play, rather than actually singing in a band. But still… very entertaining. Wikipedia said there’d be exploding bibles though… that might’ve been even more fun. Fireworks are cool in a controlled setting.
It went on too long. It was a big contrast to the super down-to-earth attitudes of Beyond The Black and Saxon. But still… I recommend checking them out.
Then, the moment I paid for, Saxon came on. When I originally bought the tickets it said they were only playing songs off of the classic trio of Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm Of The Law and Denim & Leather. Somewhere between then and now, things changed, and they played a more representative setlist, with two or three more modern tunes like ‘Lionheart’ ‘Forever Free’ and ‘Sacrifice’ as well as a few surprises like ‘Frozen Rainbow’ off of the debut and ‘This Town Rocks’ off of the The Power And The Glory album. All the tracks you’d want or expect from the non-classic-trio rest of the catalogue like ‘Crusader,’ ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ and ‘Solid Ball Of Rock’ were present and accounted for. The modern tracks, far from being momentum killers, made me want to pick up all the modern Saxon albums… I think these guys might very well be in a new golden age like Kreator, Accept and Queensryche. Y’know that thing when they come back super strong.
That probably sounds super obvious to someone who’s been there since the beginning, but for a new, young fan who got turned onto the band with the internet recommendation of essentially “hail-to-the-80s,” it makes for a new thought. Either way, I’ve got some more Saxon albums to buy!
The concert had absolutely superb sound and mixing, and a brilliant civilized crowd. I had lots of space, a great view and wasn’t shoved or crowd-surfed over once. Just like when I saw Queensryche here last year… awesome venue, and an older crowd is nice too. Hmmm, why am I mentoning Queensryche so much? Queensryche on the brain tonight.
Nigel Glockler is a fantastic drummer. He injected such life and energy into things. He would throw in double-kicks and extra fills and sneaky cymbal catches all over the place and really improve and modernize the drum tracks to all the classic material.That and his fills are thunderous. He plays with a lot of power and authority. It makes the band feel so much tighter, stronger and heavier than the studio recordings. If I was going to recommend Saxon on someone I’d now recommend they check out a live album with Nigel on it. Possibly the St George’s Day Sacrifice one since it was also from Manchester’s HMV Ritz. I know he was there in like ’82… but still, here he just felt so… like a young modern guy coming in and kicking ass… you know like when you hear an old song, and think ‘I’d love if someone with some umph covered this’? Well… Nigel gave the material that umph. Like I said, I know he’s got a long, long history in the band, but something about seeing him in the flesh just made me stand back and think “wow… this guy is awesome.”
The band also added extra parts to some of the songs and extended or slightly rearranged them to be better live. A lot of their best songs are pretty short, and to make them up live they’d throw in an extra guitar solo, or one more repetition of the chorus to just let you sing along one more time… it worked really well. The whole unit were incredible.
Even ‘Suzie Hold On’ which I never really liked (until now), felt really great live. I usually zone out during ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ too even though I like it, because the comparison to Judas Priest’s ‘Victim Of Changes’ distracts me and my brain runs off on a thought-tangent and before I start concentrating again the song is over, but it completely captured my attention here, especially with Nigel making it feel so much more powerful.
Then, hearing all the classics like ‘Strong Arm Of The Law,’ ‘Denim & Leather,’ ‘Dallas 1PM,’ ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’ ‘The Power And The Glory’ and ‘Princess Of The Night’ was just great fun. It was awesome. Real fun sing-along stuff, very entertaining concert… well sang, well played, sounding and looking great, with the whole ‘raises-them-to-another-level’ drumming really icing the whole metaphorical cake.
Bottom line… Saxon were awesome and I had a great time. Go see ‘em if you’re a fan, they are excellent live. If you can’t see ‘em live maybe check out the Wacken DVD or the new George’s Day live album for some Glockler-improved Saxon.