SAXON, Portsmouth Guildhall, 20 October 2018
VFM? You betcha! Despite the fact that, including their days as Son Of A Bitch, Saxon have been doing their thing now for over forty years, and next year marks the ruby anniversary of their self-titled debut album, Messrs Byford, Quinn, Scarratt, Carter and Glockler are still more than happy to serve up an expansive two-hour, twenty-two song crowd-pleasing set. They can’t be accused of being spring chickens (can any of us these days?), but they can certainly show the young pups a thing or two when it comes to pacing, energy and excitement.
With Y&T having to pull out pretty much at the last minute support came from replacements FM, with Toby Jepsom’s new band Wayward Sons in the opening slot. Both pulled a decent crowd from the usually partisan Saxon faithful and went down well: Wayward Sons are certainly a band worth keeping an eye out for in future. Saxon though are in a class of their own, and although it’s a cliché to say ‘I’ve never seen them better’ they certainly still have the guile and panache that set them aside as one of the NWOBHM’s leading lights back in the day. There’s something about the band that generates genuine enthusiasm even now and, to be fair to them, they’ve never disappointed onstage; I’m pretty confident that there are very few people who could say they’d seen a bad Saxon gig.
So, with ‘Thunderbolt’ still being promoted it’s no surprise that a hefty chunk of the set was drawn from that album. Six cuts, in fact, were pulled from it, perhaps the best of the bunch being ‘Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz)’ and the title track (and evening’s opener). Their Motörhead homage ‘They Played Rock And Roll’ is a particularly effective blunt instrument, and although on the onstage setlist ‘Sons Of Odin’ was followed by a question mark it still worked well on the night.
If you want to be picky, there wasn’t a lot from the band’s middle years. Thirteen from the band’s years with Carrere Records popped up (ten of those coming from that oh-so-important triumvirate of ‘Wheels Of Steel’, ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ and ‘Denim And Leather’), leaving just ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Battering Ram’ and ‘Solid Ball Of Rock’ (introduced tongue-in-cheek as “from one of our many comeback albums") joining the dots from then to now. A shame, as there are some great songs lurking on those SPV albums. But armed with the strength of competition from the band’s back catalogue such grumbles are inevitable. And anyway, how can you argue with a band that pulls off encores of ‘The Eagle Has Landed’, ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’, ‘Wheels Of Steel’ and ‘Denim And Leather’? Answer? You can’t.
© John Tucker October 2018