SAXON, ARMORED SAINT Kick Off Short US Tour And "Win Hands Down"!

May 13, 2015, 6 years ago

By Mark Gromen

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Like clockwork...every two years, on either apron of the European festival season, be it late Spring or early Fall, Saxon head to the Big Apple, more specifically BB Kings, off Times Square, to host an intimate club show. This marks the fourth time witnessing the venerable NWOBHM legends in the subterranean enclave, as millions pass overhead, admiring the skyscrapers and kitschy tourist traps, fully unaware of the greatness taking place a couple of stories below. On May 14th, the Brits brought along Armored Saint, also a long way from home.

Opening with the world premier of 'Win Hands Down', the title track from a not yet released album (although eh single is available online), Armored Saint gave a strong performance. The set centered around their earliest material, plus a pair off Symbol Of Salvation, now seen as their strongest album, although upon its release (in the shifting early Nineties musical climate) it fell on deaf ears. John Bush was sweating profusely by 'March Of The Saint', up second in the running order. Not much room onstage, setting up in front of Saxon and Gonzo Sandoval's drum kit situated stage left, behind his brother/guitarist Phil. Despite the cramped quarters, Bush and perpetually bopping bassist Joey Vera were constantly in motion. 'Nervous Man' sees sleeveless Jeff Duncan holding his guitar vertically. 'Paydirt' saw the guitarist and Vera together, center stage. Afterwards, Duncan was alone onstage, to start 'Last Train Home', where he also provided backing vocals. Between songs, Bush addressed the audience and complaining about the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, calling them "pussies". "Another newbie, 'Mess', preceded 'Chemical Euphoria', with Bush unlit as he strayed to the wings of the little stage. Vera leaned on Duncan's back. Nothing kills the momentum faster than a La Raza song ('Left Hook From Right Field'), especially at the expense of something (anything) else. 'Can U Deliver' brought back the crowd reaction, Bush yelping and pumping his fist, as the audience did the same. 'Reign Of Fire' sees Duncan take a solo spot before the aggressively begun 'Madhouse' ends their evening in extended histrionics.

'Long Way To The Top', Twisted Sister's longtime intro music, well the Britons are utilizing the AC/DC song as a call to arms too. Even before the band appears onstage, the sounds of revving engines tips off what's to come, a blistering 'Motorcycle Man'. Biff Byford wore a knee length overcoat, despite outside temps near 90 and BB Kings being packed. Last time, I could navigate through the crowd to shot photos (as there's no protective barricade), but tonight, that was basically impossible, without being completely rude to paying fans, even if some of them did so anyway. Most were well behaved, intent on filming the show on their cellphones.

Wasn't long before Byford's blond mane was stringy and sweat soaked. Nibb Carter (bass) violently pinwheeling his hair, like a ceiling fan on the fritz, was in stark contrast to the static guitar tandem of Doug Scarratt and the tinted shades/bandanna wearing elder statesman Paul Quinn. Nice to see Nigel Glockler back behind the kit, after a head injury sidelined him this past winter. 'Sacrifice' gave way to 'Power & The Glory', a lot of older tunes reeled off early. The singer promised a set with songs not aired on this continent in a while. 'And The Bands Played On' is but one of the historical documents aired, recounting their experiences at Castle Donnington.A speedy 'To Hell And Back Again" kept things old school, then it was 'I've Got To Rock (To Stay Alive)'. "who's get-lagged," questioned the frontman, to silence. "Who's drunk," got more of a response, as his sipped on a water bottle that he shared with fans, pouring the liquid into their mouths: metal communion. After 'This Town Rocks'. Byford introduced Glockler, saying, "Back from the..., wasn't going to say dead." 

A searing 'Dallas 1 PM', the tale of JFK's assignation, complete with Scarratt solo and prerecorded news clips, has always been an emotional crowd pleaser. 'Solid Ball Of Rock' has never been a personal favorite, given the choices in their back catalog, but it did see Scarratt and Quinn center stage, together for the first time. Also provided an honest call & response section (the attendees had been singing along, virtually non-stop, since the opening notes). When the audience mimicked Byford's exaggerated highest register, he countered with, "You cheeky bastards!" Always good for a story or two (the true art of fronting a band), Byford said the next track would, "not be fast, but fucking fast! Where thrash metal came from," cue a bombastic '20,000 Ft', Carter twirling his hair like an old propeller aircraft.    

"The next song came out on two alums in the USA. Not sure why? I think the record company guy's wife was named Suzie. We had to sack him or it would have been on every Saxon album," the surprising, but welcome to these ears, 'Suzie Hold On'. A rare moment of respite, as the band lock into the moody, progressive tinged tale of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Almost as if recharging their batteries, the remainder of the night was a string of hits: 'Never Surrender', screaming guitars tones of 'Heavy Metal Thunder', the biographical airplane adventure '747 (Strangers In The Night)', a slice of Middle Ages history "Crusader' and the proper set ending 'Princess Of The Night'.   

The encore included the ubiquitous 'Wheel Of Steel' and the 'Denim And Leather' finale, fans singing almost the entire tracks (heads bobbing and arms thrust overhead), even the nearly a cappella portion, where the band all but stopped playing. While we might not have got the same set as England/Europe, where Saxon selected songs exclusively from the first three albums, this is loaded with plenty of that material, and then some. See you again in the Big Apple in 2017?

The show was opened by Jack Frost and his latest incarnation of Seven Witches, who debuted 'World Without Men' off the forthcoming Way Of The Wicked CD, alongside oldies 'The Answer' and a set closing 'Metal Tyrant'.

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