Saxon Live in San Francisco

October 6, 2013
DNA Lounge, San Francisco

By Dan Wall

Set List: Sacrifice, The Power and the Glory, Night of the Wolf, This Town Rocks, Made in Belfast, 20,000 Ft., Heavy Metal Thunder, The Eagle has Landed, Dogs of War, Motorcycle Man, Rock ‘N Roll Gypsy, Guardians of the Tomb, Dallas 1 p.m., Denim and Leather, Wheels of Steel. Encore: Crusader, Strong Arm of the Law, Princess of the Night. 1 hour, 40 minutes.

You may know some of the bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal better than you know Saxon, but no one carries the banner for that sound and image better than this English quintet.

Loud guitars? Check. Big drums? Check. Louder than an air craft carrier? Check. Songs about women, rock and roll, dragons, trains, denim, leather and more rock and roll? Check.

Saxon is a winning team, folks. Despite a couple of personnel hiccups and a few albums when the band listened to the wrong label executive and “tweaked” its sound in the 80’s, this band has been churning out quality metal since 1979. Vocalist Biff Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn have been around since the beginning, and guitarist Doug Scarrett, bassist Nibbs Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler make up the best version of Saxon since the group’s classic days back in the early 1980’s.

The band’s appeal (especially in Europe) can be attributed to two things: the band slots nicely between tradition metal (think Judas Priest and Iron Maiden) and straight ahead rock and roll (Aerosmith, KISS, etc…) and Byford’s leadership.

On this tour, the band’s second to the states in just two years (that must be some kind of record), the group is supporting its new album Sacrifice but playing what is basically a greatest songs set. None of the songs were ever hits here, but for those who know better, the band has as many classic songs as any other band from its era.

And it’s Byford who is front and center, dressed in his trademark long jacket, with his greying locks flowing, looking every bit the consummate English rock star. He is a charming, humble Englishman, and the one thing I really like about him is that his voice has remained the same for the past 34 years. He will not lose his voice because he strains to hit notes that only dogs can hear. He might lose it for a variety of other reasons, but his mid-range rumble has remained remarkably steady for his entire career, and Saxon today still sounds like classic Saxon did.

The rest of the quintet is as steady as they come-it’s Biff’s show, and the rest of the boys pretty much stay out of his way, despite the remarkable riffs and steady rhythm section. The other stars of the show are the songs, and on this night “Sacrifice,” “This Town Rocks,” “Denim and Leather,” “Princess of the Night,” “The Power and the Glory” and “Wheels of Steel” were the highlights of the lengthy set.

Many in our reading audience may be going “Saxon? Really?,” but true fans know that Saxon is one the best and most consistent metal acts of the past 35 years. The group still turns out great material (Sacrifice continues the band’s recent run of great studio records), and the band can absolutely burn up a concert stage. The crowd in San Francisco was decent for a Sunday night, with the crowd of 400-500 singing every word to the classic songs. That’s a pretty good turnout in America, a country that largely ignores all of the great English and European metal bands still tredding the boards-in Europe and at home, Saxon is still doing big business and is a band very much in demand on the summer festival circuit.

If there is a connection to be made with another band, it would be Motorhead. Biff and Lemmy are great friends and the bands have toured together often. But the fact that rings true for both bands is the love of rock and metal, as well as the fact that both bands have and continue to do things in their own way. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both bands literally go on until no one is left standing-and that will be a sad day for hard rock fans everywhere.