Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ripple Field Trip - Saxon Live At BB Kings

May 12, 2015 

Photos by Ali Amendola 

Life is like a boomerang sometimes. Or a merry go round – or a circus. At least my life lately has not been static. Without going into too much personal detail, I had a really rotten April, I logged more hours as a visitor in the hospital than most people at their day jobs. It's a bad sign when the security guard at the CCU ward stopped asking for ID – he just offered a sympathetic smile on a daily basis. 

May was starting to even out a bit – my daily routine was changed but we had somehow avoided disaster. My social life was non existent. I was the sole person in charge of some else's care, and couldn't be away from home for more than a few hours without panicking and fearing the worst.

On the morning of Tuesday, May 12, I got a Facebook message from my friend Paul Mortz, who I joke is the “tattoo artist for the rock n roll elite” He had gotten in touch with his friend and client, Toby Jepson, who with Biff Byford, co-produced Saxon's 2011 album, “Call to Arms”, and explained to him he had a friend in NYC who was going through a rough time, was a huge Saxon fan, and could he call in a favor. 

So basically Saxon's producer had their singer Biff Byford put me on their guest list. (I am allowed to gloat) 

I got in touch with my best friend, and we made plans to head over to BB Kings. When we got inside it was one mishap after another. My bestie, Starchild, is disabled and has mobility problems. The hostess sat us at a cramped table and kept repeating we had to sit across from each other, those were the rules. I tried to make the most of it and made small talk with the two guys we were sat with. Starchild was becoming increasingly uncomfortable so we asked to be moved. We were then seated at a booth on floor level about five feet away from the stage. That will work!!! A few minutes after we were moved, someone tapped me on the back. It was one of the dudes we had sat with - he bought me a beer! “Great seeing female metal fans!” He said, clinking glasses with me, “Enjoy the show!”. When i did my walk around the club to get to the ladies' room, I had a good look at the crowd. It was 85% male. If I was single, I would have my pick of overweight, balding middle aged men proudly wearing faded Iron Maiden and Motörhead shirts that were being stretched way beyond their limits. I ran into about half a dozen people I knew – and just had a generally good feeling about that night. 

Local band Seven Witches opened the show – and they really impressed me. I liked their songs, they were good musicians, and set a nice tone.

Armored Saint were on next – admittedly I am not too familiar with their catalog but I recognized more than half their songs and halfway through their set I was fist pumping and headbanging with the crowd. John Bush still has an amazing voice, and in his sweatpants and flannel shirt still had great command of the crowd. 

Saxon were up next, after “It's a long way to the top” by AC/DC played over the PA, there was the sound of motorcycles revving. I stood up on the booth we were sitting in. My heart started pounding. “MOTORCYCLE MAN!” I yelled to Starchild. 

She had just had her ears cleaned, but didn't hear me over the roar of crowd, she just nodded her head and smiled the way you do at someone who's not all there. 

Then the band came out and guitarist Paul Quinn did indeed start the opening notes of the classic song. The first Saxon song I had ever heard, years ago, via the “NWOBHM '79 revisited” compilation Lars Ulrich put together in 1990. There they were only a few feet away from me – Saxon!! I couldn't stop smiling, and dancing, and headbanging, and smiling...but mostly smiling!! They sounded so good. Biff's voice was on point!! For a man in his mid 60's he had more control over his voice than singers half his age!!

This was the band's 35th anniversary tour, and was extra special because drummer Nigel Glockler was kicking major ass behind the kit after recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured brain aneurysm last year. As it was an anniversary tour, the set-list was peppered with classics from the band's heyday in the early 80's - as well as tracks from the rest of their long career. It was the first night of their US tour, and they played with so much energy it radiated into the crowd and no one in that room was standing still. I liked having my perch on top of the booth – Biff gave me a thumbs up (could be because of my Toby Jepson shirt too) – and bassist Nibbs Carter nodded and smiled a few times. Nibbs is the “baby” in the band – joining Saxon in 1988 at the age of 22, he is the longest serving bass player in the band's history. Guitarist Doug Scarratt joined the band in 1994, and the current line up has been in place since drummer Glockler rejoined in 2006.

At one point Biff looked into the crowd and remarked as to what a “handsome looking audience” it was. Maybe Saxon's no-frills, “meat and potatoes” style of classic heavy metal draws more of a testosterone filled following then some other bands – but honestly I did not mind watching Nibbs and Doug all night and wondered why there wasn't a gaggle of leather clad heavy metal mama's at the side of the stage throwing their bras at them (I'm too old for that stuff – plus if I threw my bra at someone I'd have to get it back – damn things are expensive!!!) Plus, for someone close to my mom's age, Biff still had that sexy English charm – and had the crowd in the palm of his hand! There was so much audience participation that I was reminded this was a band that was used to playing in front of thousands of people at outdoor festivals – but they felt equally at home in front of a few hundred (even though Biff did remark about how small the stage was). Not sure why he kept switching out microphones between every other song, but I did get a wink from him as he passed me by to go to the sound guy!! 

“I WANT TO HEAR DENIM AND LEATHER” Starchild yelled at me, waving her cane, “DENIM AND LEATHER!” I was the only one calling out “DOGS OF WAR” and the dude next to me in the Sabbath shirt was calling for “Crusader” (during which he played perfect air guitar).

There were so many highlights for me – I couldn't have asked for a better set-list, even though I didn't get my song or “Strong Arm of the Law”. I really went nuts during “747 (Strangers in the Night)”  

“There's a 747 goin' into the night
There's no power they don't know why
They've no fuel they gotta land soon
They can't land by the light of the moon”

That's when it struck me – the level of songwriting was really above par for a band of that “stature” . And literally it was during the guitar solo that I just shook my head and silently wondered why Iron Maiden “made it” while Saxon will always be an “also-ran”. Maybe it was bad business deals, or as rumored in the early 80's, because Saxon were “too ugly”? I'm shrugging as I type this.

“Princess of the Night” was the last song of the set, the song that was the reason behind the purchase of my first Saxon album, “Denim and Leather”. The song that's basically a love letter to a century old locomotive. Locomotives ARE metal!!

“Speeding, sparks like lightning 
Engine working hard
Furnace on the foot plate 
Shining in the night 
Iron striking metal 
The sound of racing steel 
It's all I ever wanna hear 
It's music to my ears”

I literally beat up my friend Darren who made the mistake of joining me in my little go-go booth for that song. I was so happy – so full of – relief – and it all came out at the show!! 

The last song of the night was the one Starchild, and undoubtedly the rest of the crowd, was there for, the bands iconic “Denim and Leather”. Biff lead the crowd into a sing along chant – fists in the air

“Denim and Leather brought us all together 
It Was you – you – you that set the spirit free!!!”

I advise anyone who has the chance to see Saxon on this tour to definitely check them out – you will most certainly get your money's worth!!! And any young metal musician who wants to know how it's really done – go down to a Saxon gig!!! 

Set list:
Motorcycle Man
Power and the Glory
And the Bands Played On
To Hell and Back Again
I've Got to Rock (To Stay Alive)
This Town Rocks
Dallas 1 PM
Solid Ball of Rock
20,000 Ft
Suzie Hold On
The Eagle Has Landed
Never Surrender
Heavy Metal Thunder 
747 (Strangers in the Night) 
Princess of the Night 

Wheels of Steel 
Denim and Leather  

- Rys

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