LIVE (Retro): Saxon, Heaven & Hanover @ JB’s Theater, 02/14/1986

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35 years ago today, February 14, 1986, romance was not on the menu at the short-lived JB’s Theater in Albany, when legendary British metal stalwarts Saxon steamrolled into Albany for a mighty gig.

This was Saxon’s ‘Innocence  Is No Excuse’ tour – not their best album by a long shot, which saw the band flirting with a more commercial, lyrically-vapid, lowest-common-denominator approach which sacrificed some key rawness.  But this was an amazing, heavy show. They’d played a few times in the Albany area before this – opening for TRIUMPH at the Palace Theater in March 1982, followed by some club gigs at Radio City in Scotia in August 1983 and May 1984. JB’s was a converted roller-skating rink, roomy, perfect sized venue for Saxon. It was open for about of year, and this show was probably the most packed I’d seen it there, along with gigs by Blue Oyster Cult and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The opening band was called Hanover, from Canada.  I remember little about them, so I’m sure they made no impression.  What I do remember was that Albany-Colonie heavies Blind Legion were originally scheduled as the opening band, before being unceremoniously dumped from the bill by club management, perhaps because there were two international bands eventually on the bill before Saxon?  I don’t know. But it was a disappointing move.  A shame – Blind Legion, which had a raw, NWOBHM-influenced style, would have been a perfect match for a Saxon crowd.

The middle band was Australian heavies Heaven, led by Aussie singer Alan Fryer. Great band, solid meat’n’potatoes hard rock/metal, and this was their second time in a few months playing JB’s – the other time they’d headlined.  In ’86 Heaven were promoting their so-so third album ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, like Saxon’s new album one that contained less heft than earlier records, and the lineup was no longer all-Australian, then featuring mostly American musicians, including guitarist Mitch Perry, backing up Fryer.  I remember a solid opening set, which featured some of their older keepers like “Where Angels Fear To Tread” and “In The Beginning”, and they went down well.

Saxon conquered all.  Despite their less-intense new album, this was classic, heavy Saxon, a killer show. “Power & The Glory” opened the show to huge roars into new single “Back On The Streets”, heavier live than on record. The immortal “Dallas 1PM” featured original bassist Steve “Nobby” Dawson (soon to leave the band) leading the charge. This was the ‘classic’ Saxon lineup, not only Dawson, but guitarists Graham Oliver (now also departed) and Paul Quinn, plus drummer Nigel Glockler, and singer Biff Byford, who led proceedings with his usual roaring, wisecracking charisma.  The set was bulletproof, featuring some of the most solid early 80s real metal headbangers by anyone, ever, including “Wheels of Steel”, “This Town Rocks”, “Motorcycle Man”, “Strong Arm of the Law”, “Crusader”, and the great “Princess of the Night”, which featured a drum solo by Glockler.  There were also new songs (“Devil Rides Out”, “Call of the Wild” and “Broken Heroes”), all better live than on record.

They did the classic, metal-unites-us anthem “Denim & Leather” as an encore, and this writer, then a teenage metalhead, was up front, holding my cutoff denim jean jacket “battle vest” (with Saxon backpatch) aloft. Biff Byford grabbed it out of my hands, put it on, wore it for the whole song, found me in the crowd, and returned it. To a 17-year-old metalhead, this was akin to a Viking God descending from Valhalla above and personally blessing me, as if anointed by Odin himself. 

The show finished up with a long medley of their fastest, heaviest stuff (“Heavy Metal Thunder”, “Taking Your Chances”, “Stand Up & Be Counted”, “Warrior”, back into “HM Thunder”), a glorious, neck-snapping ending to a great gig.  All hail the mighty Saxon.

Setlist:

  • Power & the Glory
  • Back on the Streets
  • Dallas 1PM
  • Devil Rides Out
  • Motorcycle Man
  • Broken Heroes
  • This Town Rocks
  • Crusader
  • Princess of the Night (w/ drum solo)
  • Rock’n’Roll Gypsy
  • Wheels of Steel
  • Call of the Wild
  • Denim & Leather
  • Heavy Metal Thunder
  • Stand Up & Be Counted
  • Taking Your Chances
  • Warrior/Heavy Metal Thunder.
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