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Live in St. Charles, Illinois, October 2011

Review by Greg Olma

It had been almost a decade since Saxon last graced the stages of the Chicago-land area.  I have been really disappointed in the lack of live activity from this NWOBHM bunch.  They have always been a favorite of mine but their lack of USA tour dates was starting to wear on me.  After speaking to Biff Byford briefly before the show, it has come to my attention that the lack of tours here in the US stems from the not having their albums released in the states.  The release of their latest disc Call To Arms seems to have fixed that issue, so with that a tour was planned.  I don’t know if absence makes the heart grow fonder but Saxon truly “unleashed the beast” (as their 1997 album suggested) and they rocked St. Charles like few bands could.

Since the tour was to promote Call To Arms, they performed no less than seven of the eleven tracks on that disc.  “Hammer Of The Gods,” “Mists of Avalon” and the title track were played, I dare say, better than the studio versions.  “Back in ’79,” off the same record especially sounded much better.  That’s not to say the CD is weak, it’s just that Saxon was always best on stage and they proved that with their performance in St. Charles. 

Greg Olma
Greg Olma

I was surprised that they stuck with a very old school “classics” set.  Aside from the tracks from Call To Arms, they only performed “Battalions Of Steel” from the last two decades.  Everything else was from 1985 or sooner.  This surprised me a bit because the crowd was packed with die-hard fans that knew the whole catalogue.  There were no casual fans in attendance.  In fact, after the show, a couple of fans I spoke to said they were a little disappointed with the lack of newer material.  A band like Saxon has a rich background and if they were to do a set picked by the fans, they would be up there for four hours.  Aside from those few comments, everyone walked away happy.  How could you not?  They played “Heavy Metal Thunder,” “Strong Arm Of The Law, “Motorcycle Man” and “And The Bands Played On.” The latter tunes haven’t  been played in Illinois in a long time (if ever).  I have seen the band many times over the years and those tracks have been absent from the set lists.  Saxon also squeezed in “Rock ‘N’ Roll Gypsy” from the criminally overlooked Innocence Is No Excuse album.  The set was rounded off by some of the usual suspect like “Power And The Glory,” “Wheels Of Steel” and “Crusader”. 

Greg Olma
Greg Olma

I have seen Saxon live probably close to a dozen times and this show stands out as one of the best.  Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t know if that is because they have been away so long but there was a certain urgency to their performance.  Nibbs Carter and Doug Scarratt are the two new guys (although they have been with the band for over a decade) but they perform like they have been there from the beginning.  Nigel Glockler has returned to the drum stool and although Fritz Randow was good, Glockler just fits the band perfectly.  I was glad to see his return.  The constants in the line-up Biff Byford and Paul Quinn were great as always.  Byford hasn’t lost any of his vocal prowess or his English humor and Quinn is still the master of the melodic riff.  The band played like a well oiled machine with not a note out of place.  Saxon is too good of a live band to be this absent from the US metal scene.  My hope is that they manage to come here more often that once every ten years.  If you missed the show, you really missed out on a great performance.

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Greg Olma
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 6 at
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