notes from the coast: Saxon @ The Key Club, 9/28

For all the old school metal diehards out there, these lyrics need no introduction. For those who arn’t familiar, these are the opening lyrics to one of the greatest metal anthems ever, Denim and Leather, from one of metal’s greatest and most enduring legends, Saxon. One of the first of the original NWOBHM bands, Saxon have always been one of the guardians of the true heavy metal spirit, with their classic metal lyrics belted out by bold and powerful lead singer Biff Byford, an endless string of hard rocking anthems about cars, trains, motorcycles, planes and any other form of manly transportation, and the awesome, rugged metal riffage of Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver. Always one of my personal favorites, I can still remember seeing them open up for the mighty Motörhead oh so many years ago. At their peak they were simply one of the best.

As if their metal legacy needed any more padding, they also are one of the few metal bands that survived their lowly late 80’s releases and actually slogged their way through the 90’s and into the present day, upholding their metal heritage and carrying the metal torch at a time when metal became a laughing stock, never losing faith in what they were doing or what they were about. This is one of the many reasons they are considered metal royalty and when I saw they were playing last Wednesday night I jumped at the opportunity.

In this day and age it’s rare for a headlining band to go out on tour without a handful of strong supporting bands to help foot the bill. But Saxon are no ordinary headliners and had no problem packing the Key Club. This was great because they ended up playing an almost 2 hour set, but the downside is, once again I was relegated to some sub-par openers. The young opening punk band I caught couldn’t even get through a version of Slayer‘s Black Magic without messing it up, so I won’t even go there. The next band were an old school thrash/punk band I remember seeing back in the day called MX Machine. They were very non-descript back then, their only saving grace was having written such memorable song titles as Kick You in the Face and No Glam Fags. The singer/bassist was actually pretty funny with his between song banter but since they didn’t even play No Glam Fags it just wasn’t worthwhile, as non-descript now as back then.

Needless to say, everyone was more than ready for Saxon to take the stage and wondering what gem they would start the show with. The band came out firing with opener Hammer of the Gods from their new album Call to Arms and the night was off to a roaring start. Launching into two old classics Heavy Metal Thunder and Never Surrender the crowd was head banging and fist pumping from the very beginning and starving for every song played. The band sounded massive and powerful as ever. Biff looked very regal with his flowing mane of long silver hair and decked out in a suit that was properly “rockered out”. Behind the drum kit was the familiar face of Nigel Glockner keeping the beats pounding and in front of me was original rhythm guitar hero Paul Quinn. The rest of the band consisted of Nibbs Carter and Doug Scarratt on bass and lead guitar respectively, both doing a fantastic job of keeping the sound and performance as tight as ever.

From here on out the band did a great job of weaving a surprising number of new songs from the last three albums (Inner Sanctum, Into the Labyrinth, Call to Arms) with all their classics like Motorcycle Man, Denim and Leather and Princess of the Night. One other aspect of not having great opening bands was that the crowd seemed super energetic, myself included, as we lapped up every riff like it was the last beer on earth and screamed along to every song at the top of our lungs. I was even happy to hear one of my least favorite album anthems Rock n Roll Gypsy, not allowing any past grudges to ruin my enjoyment of the band’s excellent performance.

For the first encore we were treated to a very rare gem in Crusader followed by 747, a fine solo by Doug which lead finally to Power and the Glory. But it was the second encore which really brought the house down with two of the best Saxon songs ever, Strong Arm of the Law and Wheels of Steel. It was really exciting to see both performed with such enthusiasm from both band and crowd after almost 2 hours of playing, with everyone as alive as when the band first hit the stage. When they finally finished the set, the guys all came together to say goodbye to the crowd, tossing picks, set lists and anything else they could give to the crowd. After all these years, Saxon still know what keeps them going, the fans, and you can tell they really appreciate it and are humbled by it, one of the main reasons they truly deserve every accolade they receive. It was a classic performance from a classy band, my neck is still sore from all the headbanging I did at the show, a true sign of a great performance. If you get the chance to see them, do not miss out on the legendary Saxon!!

Setlist:
Hammer of the Gods
Heavy Metal Thunder
Never Surrender
Chasing the Bullet
Motorcycle Man
Back in ’79
I’ve Got to Rock (To Stay Alive)
Call to Arms
Rock ‘n’ Roll Gypsy
Demon Sweeney Todd
This Town Rocks
When Doomsday Comes (Hybrid Theory)
Denim and Leather
Afterburner
Princess of the Night

Crusader
747 (Strangers in the Night)
Doug Scarratt Guitar Solo
Power and the Glory

Nibbs Carter Bass Solo
Strong Arm of the Law
Wheels of Steel