Saxon Makes Long-Awaited Return To Los Angeles
By Avinash Mittur, September 28th 2011, Key Club, Hollywood CA: This was my first concert after starting college and with that of course, comes studying, stress and more studying. Last night at the Key Club however, I took a break from those woes for a night of great music with one of Britain's greatest practitioners of heavy metal, Saxon. For an hour and 45 minutes, the band gave an immensely satisfying performance and proved why they are known as one of the best performers in heavy metal.
It had been years since the band last visited Los Angeles, and local metal fans packed the Key Club with an intense energy and excitement. Chanting the band name was a common occurrence throughout the show, and the crowd knew all of the songs. It was truly amazing to be a part of a group of people who love a band that much.
As a keyboard introduction played over the PA at 10:50, the energy in the Key Club became truly palpable. The crowd went wild and the band came out with a rollicking reading of their new single, "Hammer of the Gods". It truly set the tone for the show, giving a very classic rock and roll feel with its upbeat riffs and straightforward chorus. When the band burst into "Heavy Metal Thunder," everyone in the audience knew that Saxon would be in top form throughout the night. Vocalist Biff Byford worked the stage with a regal authority, moving his body in a manner similar to Robert Plant, and didn't overdo the stage antics. He wasn't the most active frontman I have seen, but every move he did make served the music and the audience. Biff was the consummate leader of the show; he absolutely had the audience in the palm of his hand. When Biff pointed the mic to us, we sang as if our lives depended on it, and when he told us to get louder, we unleashed a deafening roar. His voice was also in perfect condition, being near indistinguishable from the original albums. Guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt could frequently be seen running across the stage, or lining up next to each other for dueling guitar solos and both performed the songs exactly as they were recorded, without an off-note to be heard. Bassist Nibbs Carter gave the most energetic performance of the night, constantly running about and headbanging while still providing the band with a rock-solid bottom end.
It is worth noting that the sound at this concert was absolutely phenomenal. Every instrument could be heard no matter where you were in the club. Every guitar solo cut through, there were no words indecipherable and even the bass drums were mixed with a well done mix of triggers and naturally mic'ed sounds. This show was not just a fantastic heavy metal concert; it was also a wonderful exercise in proper live audio engineering.
The band smartly alternated classic tracks with new ones. The new tracks from "Call to Arms" went over very well with the crowd and the band's choice of tracks to play from it was superb. The jackhammer speed of "Afterburner" (jokingly introduced by Biff as "a slow song to give you guys a break") and the slow march of "When Doomsday Comes" worked especially well to showcase the album's variety. A blitzkrieg run-through of "Demon Sweeney Todd" from 2009's "Into the Labyrinth" was a massive highlight, showing that Saxon are still cranking out classic tunes with a heaviness unseen in their youth. The classic tracks of course, of which there were many, repeatedly sent the audience into a frenzy of headbanging and horn raising.
The band was noticeably pleased with the crowd, throwing in "This Town Rocks" despite its absence from the official setlist. It was a nice treat for Los Angeles, and a really sincere way of showing that the band cared for their fans. We screamed every chorus at the top of our lungs, and there was a pure sense of heavy metal unity as we all shouted "Denim! And Leather! Goes all together!" as one (even though both articles of clothing weren't too common throughout the show). After a set-closing "Princess of the Night," the band came out for an encore made up of "Crusader," "747 (Strangers in the Night)," a guitar solo from Doug, and "Power and the Glory". "747" made for a superb crowd singalong.
The band then left, but Nibbs came out by himself this time. He began with a short bass solo which then led into "Strong Arm of the Law". The band finally ended the show with "Wheels of Steel," which was extended with a shouting session with Biff. He even controlled our volume with his hands as a classical music conductor would do with an orchestra. We were absolutely in awe of what we had just seen and heard; the sheer volume of our voices as Saxon took their bows was massive. So what if they didn't play "To Hell and Back Again"? It didn't matter, as everyone who came out of the Key Club knew they had taken part in a top-notch heavy metal experience. After last night, I know that I will be the first to buy a ticket to their next show in Los Angeles, whether it is next month, or the next decade.
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