Saxon live in Hamburg, 2011. Photo by Kai Swillus, courtesy of www.saxon747.com.
w/Black Star Riders
If you happened to be in the U-City Loop on an unseasonably chilly spring evening this past week, you may have found yourself caught up in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal sweeping down Delmar. If you’ve never experienced this before, it smells a little like denim, a little like leather, and has a distinct Yorkshire accent.
The reason for all this supernatural parametal activity was the arrival of the legendary Saxon and openers Black Star Riders at Delmar Hall, and the two bands united to rock it to its foundations with A-game sets of classic and new material.
The St. Louis gig that found the band headlining was a rarity on this tour; both Saxon and Black Star Riders are currently opening for Judas Priest, and are squeezing in these special shows on the rare night off. With only four weeks to promote the festivities, the decent-sized crowd that braved the weather made enough noise to properly represent the entire metalhead population of our fine city.
A headlining set from a band that we rarely get to see headline in the first place was sure to be a treat, and the band didn’t waste any time making those rock and roll wishes come true. Opening the show with the title track from their brand new album Thunderbolt, Saxon fired off a couple of other recent tunes, including the late-night-creepshow track “Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz),” which is sure to find its way to Halloween playlists everywhere this October if there is any justice in the world. Frontman and chief-songwriter Biff Byford even played up the song’s dramatics by holding his hand out in a Lugosi-like claw while seemingly staring down imaginary demons.
Speaking of Byford, he always struck me as one of the most unique frontmen in rock, specifically because of how his age seems to add to the charm of his persona. Resplendent in a navy-blue admiral’s coat with red trim and silver buttons, he casually stalks the stage like he’s a captain surveying the hull of a mighty ship on an angry ocean. In a manner that seems to buck the usual rock-and-roll tradition, he actually looks cooler the older he gets. Perhaps one day we’ll see him at the age of 100, rocking the stage in an eye patch and billowy white beard, performing for an all new generation.
As far as the voice? It hasn’t aged a day, and Byford can ably flourish his impressive range like a true, road-worn professional. Being able to hear him rip into a song like “Motorcycle Man” was a treat, especially when the rest of the band were playing with an energy usually reserved for younger bands. Bassist Nibbs Carter in particular brings so much sweat-soaked and neck-wrenching showmanship to the band that it’s a wonder that he can focus on his playing. He does though, and along with ace drummer Nigel Glockler, they lock in nice and tight, propelling tunes like “Sons of Odin,” and “Crusader” to a level far beyond the recorded versions.
Lead guitarist Doug Scarratt, in the band since ’96, continues to display a fluid style that emphasizes personality over flash, even though his style has plenty of both. As always though, the straw that stirs the drink is founding member Paul Quinn. Incredible that the eternally underappreciated guitarist doesn’t get the rock star kudos that other musicians do, but those in attendance witnessed a typically focused and impassioned performance from the axe master. Quinn squeezes every emotion in the spectrum from his Les Paul, with solos that resonate with their blues-inflected nuance and storytelling.
Before the end of the set, Byford stated he loved the crowd so much that he wanted to take them to the next city with them, provided they could fit in the equipment trailer. There was more than one rocker in the house who probably wouldn’t have minded freezing uncomfortably overnight just to see them play again.
Opening the show was Black Star Riders, an extension of the Thin Lizzy legacy, featuring that band’s guitarist Scott Gorham. The band played a mixture of BSR material as well as a few Lizzy classics like “Jailbreak” and “The Boys are Back in Town” with singer Ricky Warwick’s Irish brogue nailing all of it with an enthusiasm that would have made Phil Lynott proud. | Jim Ousley