In Saxon’s classic anthem “Denim & Leather,” frontman/behemoth Biff Byford sings of the band-fan connection, arguably stronger in metal than in other genres: “Do you dream of playing guitar or smashing up the drums?…You can always be a singer like me and front the band/When on the stage we wait at your command/Denim and leather/Brought us all together/It was you that set the spirit free.”
And the packed house at B.B. King’s was full of the “denim and leather” crowd (predominantly male, predominantly over 40, not a man-bun or rolled cuff in sight). They were there to pay fist-thrusting homage to one of the pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), a scene that also spawned more, well, popular bands, such as Judas Priest. Saxon and NWOBHM were a pioneering influence on Metallica and their American metal ilk, though the students surpassed the masters in popularity. Still, one concertgoer in a Kiss shirt raved that “it’s like 1983 in here!” Small wonder, as ’83 was the year of Saxon’s landmark Power & the Glory album — but here we were, thirty-some years later, and Byford, a long-haired 64-year-old metal icon, was still bringing it.
Saxon have put out twenty albums since forming in 1976, and while the set seamlessly mixed in newer material, it was classics like “The Bands Played On,” “To Hell and Back Again,” “Suzie Hold On,” and “Wheels of Steel” that got heads banging the hardest. Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn founded the band, and the rhythm section has been with the band since the Eighties. The decades spent together have bred tightness, not apathy, and their two-guitar attack is now grander and more inspiring than ever.
While both the NWOBHM genre and the band have fared less well in the States than in England and Europe, Saxon’s triumphant, melodic meat-and-potatoes metal still satisfies. A quick survey of their setlist, in fact, gives insight to just what the band and its fans are about: “I’ve Got to Rock (To Stay Alive),” “Never Surrender,” and “Heavy Metal Thunder.” That’s it in a nutshell, and after encoring with the rousing chant-along “Denim & Leather,” there wasn’t a dry concert tee in the house.
Special guests Armored Saint, despite being from Los Angeles and a good many years younger than the headliners, were the perfect complement to Saxon, and it was clear many of the crowd were longtime Saint fans. Fronted by powerhouse vocalist John Bush — who sang for Anthrax starting in the early Nineties and did five great albums with the band — Saint kicked down a super-intense high-energy set with a mix of old favorites and new material from their upcoming Win Hands Down.
Kicking off their set with the title track from Win Hands Down, Saint’s stellar, smart, modern metal shone, with fan favorites “March of the Saint,” “Reign of Fire,” and “Can You Deliver” inciting the crowd into a frenzy. Especially notable were “Pay Dirt,” “Last Train Home,” the new tune “Mess,” and 1987’s gem “Chemical Euphoria.” But it wasn’t chemicals that whipped the SRO crowd into euphoria on this evening: It was the joy and camaraderie felt from hearing and seeing old-school bands who remain vital, and their fans who remain loyal. Indeed, as Byford wrote/sang, spirits were set free — and they soared. m/
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