Saxon. Recorded live. On St. George’s Day. In England. You’d be forgiven for already having a preconception as to what that would sound like, but before you do, consider this: Saxon are fast approaching their 40th anniversary as a band and have already released a handful of live albums from their – and this is with all due respect – heyday, when everything they released was greeted with a fanfare and a guaranteed Top 40 hit. So why release a live album now, especially since we’ve already had a studio album and a rarities compilation in the past year? Because they played a blinder of a show that would have been criminal not to record, that’s why.
To be honest, you’ve already made your mind up whether this is an album that you’ll want to buy. It’s the same with any live album, especially when it’s from an already established band, that they’re only really for the hardcore fans, the ones that have to own absolutely everything the band put out. But in Saxon‘s case they’ve been making strides with their last few studio albums to pick up a new generation of fans; youngsters who weren’t around when the likes of “Wheels of Steel” and “Power & The Glory” originally came out, and whose first exposure to the band came with albums like “The Inner Sanctum” or “Sacrifice“. Those fans are well catered for here with killer versions of ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Guardians of the Tomb’ and several others from their recent albums that, quite honestly, dump all over their studio counterparts from a great height. And to reward the band for their energised performance, the Manchester crowd return the enthusiasm in some rapturous call-and-response sections, with singer Biff Byford clearly up for laugh and orchestrating the whole affair like a circus ringmaster.
But when all is said and done, it’s the hits that most people want to hear and the band oblige. How can you argue with a final run of songs that include ‘Dallas 1PM’, ‘747 (Strangers in the Night)’, ‘Wheels of Steel’, ‘Strong Arm of the Law’, ‘Denim and Leather’ and ‘Princess of the Night’? You can’t, and the band hit each song like it’s the first time they’ve played them. The whole set covers over two hours (as Biff likes to remind the crowd) and Byford‘s voice sounds as strong – possibly even stronger – than it ever has, with guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt peeling off riffs and solos like they were competing in some sort of guitar battle, and the pace never drops, making Saxon sound as vital and powerful as any younger band you care to mention.
As with any live set there are songs that get left out, ‘Motorcycle Man’ being the obvious omission, and some stuff from “Unleash the Beast” would have been nice (although that’s just personal taste), but you can’t please everybody. What is included deserves to be there and Saxon seem to be playing for their lives, and based on this performance you’ll wish that they recorded every album live from the stage.