SAXON Gig review

SAXON Gig review
Support: Hammerfall
London Koko – Tuesday 20th December 2011

By Yiannis (John) Stefanis

Saxon is one of those bands that I have seen more times than I can count, but I have never lacked the motivation to attend any of their shows. What was it that made their performance at the London Koko on the evening of the 20th of December more special than other similar excursions to honour the Barnsley Metal legends? Well, apart from the fact that they are still one of the best bands that a Metalhead of any age group can hope to see in a live environment, it was the knowledge that tonight’s show would feature predominantly material from the legendary opus “Denim And Leather” as well as from the band’s latest studio effort, the classic influenced but also quite modern-sounding “Call To Arms”.

Tonight’s support came from the Swedish Metallers Hammerfall – a band that has graced us with its presence many times in the recent past and which has a strong following here in the UK. They took to the stage at precisely 19:40 and straight away set about getting the crowd to sing along to their highly melodic and pretty straight-forward tunes. Even though their sound lacked depth and their brand of Metal is not such that can attract the interest of what you could describe as the typical old-school Saxon fan, Hammerfall looked determined enough to put their message across to the fairly packed Koko crowd and it was not long before their passion and commitment were rewarded! Power Metal tunes like “Angel Of Mercy” and “Renegade” were probably intended for a targeted audience, but it was when they moved into more ‘classic’ territory with songs like “Bang Your Head” that even the older members of the crowd began to be involved in the proceedings – something that frontman Joacim Cans openly recognised. “Blood Bound” is quite a cheesy track but one that I admit to never managing to resist singing along to, whereas the Accept influenced “Let The Hammer Fall” is such a powerful musical proposition that I had no hesitations whatsoever head banging to it! By that stage, Hammerfall have managed to use pretty much all the available space of the stage that was given to them on the night, constantly moving around, engaging with the audience and throwing shapes and by the time the last song of the night, the classic “Hearts On Fire” was introduced, the band knew that they had done everything they could to justify Saxon’s decision to have them opening their shows here in the UK.

Saxon’s second performance in London in a year can only really be described as a hero’s welcome! The first thing that you could notice after the epic intro and the main massive riff of the already-established classic “Hammer Of The Gods” were performed is how improved the sound was and how more commanding Saxon were on stage in comparison to their opening act, something that can be equally attributed to sheer talent and years of experience! Biff’s voice was as powerful as it has ever been, whether performing Zeppelin-esque ballads like “When Doomsday Comes” or more Rock n’Roll sounding tracks such as “Chasing The Bullet” and “Motorcycle Man”- the latter prompting the first of many mosh pits of the night! The crowd’s rhythmical hand clapping introduced the newbie “Back In ‘79” and I am afraid that I cannot really tell you what was happening during “Solid Ball Of Rock” as I was too busy head banging throughout (somewhat regretted the following morning!). At this moment, Biff mentioned that this year the band was celebrating thirty years since the release of “Denim And Leather” and that they chose to honour this much loved classic by performing it in sections. Starting with “Never Surrender”, which featured one of the many wonderful guitar solos performed by Doug Scarratt on the night, Saxon continued with another two mosh pit pleasers in “Fire In The Sky” and “Midnight Rider”, before the duet “And The Bands Played On”/”To Hell And Back Again” prompted Biff to ask “Is everybody feeling good?”, to which the audience replied with a massive roar! The band’s last album was further promoted through “Call To Arms” and “Mists Of Avalon” but sandwiched between were an awesome rendition of the classic Hard Rocker “Rock The Nations” and a dynamic drum solo, courtesy of Mr. Nigel Glockler. The first and only time that Biff asked to choose between two songs resulted in the incorporation of the epic “Broken Heroes” into the set, followed by the second section of the “Denim And Leather” extravaganza which included “Play It Loud”, “Rough And Ready”, “Out Of Control” and the amazing duet “Denim And Leather”/”Princess Of The Night”, all of which proved what an unbelievably tight outfit the Saxon of 2011 really are! Following a two minute departure from the stage, the band returned and performed an array of classic compositions, starting with “Crusader”, which brought epic tears to my eyes. Doug Scarratt’s flamboyant solo was followed by the head banging opus “Power And The Glory” which prompted more action in the already established mosh pit and following a smartly introduced and amazingly performed “747 (Strangers In The Night)” by Biff, the band left the stage for the second time. Though having performed enough material to satisfy the average concert-goer, Saxon realised that the last night of their “Call To Arms” tour was a special occasion that needed to be appropriately celebrated and so return to the stage once again. Following a very energetic bass guitar solo, courtesy of Mr. Nibbs Carter, Saxon finished off with two more classics, namely “Strong Arm Of The Law” and “Wheels Of Steel” and by the time they decided to perform their last bows, the noise from the crowd was so loud that you had to cover your ears!

As I mentioned earlier in my review, I have had the pleasure of seeing Saxon live on numerous occasions in the past but it really feels like each new performance is more impressive than the last! What makes them stand out from the crowd, apart from the sheer talent of each of the individual members, is their commitment to ensuring that attending a Saxon show is not only a truly enjoyable experience but is also ‘value for money’ and also their determination to remain an outfit relevant to the times. For these reasons, it is no exaggeration to say that the age of tonight’s ranged from sixteen to sixty! I am not sure what the future holds for this legendary band, but I do know this: next time you see a new Saxon album being released or a new gig being advertised, do not hesitate – something that cannot be said for all bands these days!

Set List

1. Intro
2. Hammer Of The Gods
3. Heavy Metal Thunder
4. When Doomsday Comes
5. Chasing The Bullet
6. Motorcycle Man
7. Back In ‘79
8. Solid Ball Of Rock
9. Never Surrender
10. Fire In The Sky
11. Midnight Rider
12. And The Bands Played On
13. To Hell And Back Again
14. Call To Arms
15. Rock The Nations
16. Drum Solo (Nigel Glockler)
17. Mists Of Avalon
18. Broken Heroes
19. Play It Loud
20. Rough And Ready
21. Out Of Control
22. Denim And Leather
23. Princess Of The Night

First Encore:

24. Crusader
25. Guitar Solo (Doug Scarratt)
26. Power And The Glory
27. 747 (Strangers In The Night)

Second Encore:

28. Bass Solo (Nibbs Carter)
29. Strong Arm Of The Law
30. Wheels Of Steel

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