SAXON / ANVIL / CRIMES OF PASSION – Helsinki 4.12.2011

text VILLE KRANNILA / photos HANNU JUUTILAINEN

Although Saxon visited Finland as recently as last June at the Sauna Open Air (a review of that particular show was unleashed at the Mill later), when a club gig on their on-going “Call To Arms” world tour was announced I didn’t hesitate to crab a ticket again. Add to the anticipation, Canada’s finest Anvil was due to appear as support act. Couple of weeks before the show, the tickets actually sold out which meant Nosturi was packed. However, it was much nicer atmosphere than for example with Thin Lizzy last summer when bar downstairs was closed and heat way too immense.

UK’s Crimes Of Passion began the proceedings at roughly 7:30 PM. I’d never heard of this band before but their brand of hard rock sounded very entertaining to my ears. They have released one album (it was apparently sold at the merchandise desk but missed it) and will have second one out next spring. Guess have to look those up to check out more from this group.

Anvil of course have had a resurgence of sorts after the release of “The Story Of Anvil” movie and DVD. Tonight’s audience rewarded them with cheers and applause from the first song on resulting in wide grins on Lips Kudlow and other players’ faces throughout the set. Their newest release “Juggernaut Of Justice” is definitely one of the band’s best for a long time and three songs taken from it tonight got as good response as any of the older tracks.

The infamous “Mothra” included a long guitar solo with Lips playing his instrument with a dildo. Joke went down really well, although if you closed your eyes the sounds he was actually creating weren’t making a lot of sense. But then again, with Anvil you don’t dwell on those kinds of things. The gig was fun and I suppose it’s all that counts.

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More recent “Thumb Hang” was dedicated to late Ronnie James Dio. I like this tune and it offered a nice change in pace, with slower and somewhat dramatic arrangement. “Fuken Eh” had more jamming incorporated into it and drummer Robb Reiner’s drum solo sounded pretty good too. Unsurprisingly Anvil concluded their show with immortal “Metal On Metal”. The song might be bigger than it deserves these days but I must say the band lifted it to another level with their enthusiasm.

There was a short break before headlining acts intro tape started to boom off the speakers. Similar to last summer’s Sauna Open Air festival, Saxon began their set with new song “Hammer Of The Gods” which was followed by well known “Heavy Metal Thunder.” “Hammer Of The Gods” has grown into a solid opener and sound was supporting this. It was certainly loud – almost too loud as levels weren’t top notch all the time.

“When Doomsday Comes” with its more than a slight nod towards Deep Purple’s “Perfect Strangers” passed by without much notice but was quickly forgotten as “Never Surrender” blasted away with awesome power. The first half an hour had Saxon offering every second song from their latest CD and every second a classic tune from 30 years back.

“This track is about the devil in Louisiana,” Biff announced with familiar intro to “Solid Ball Of Rock” taking over. It’s one of my favourite Saxon-numbers and tonight included a rocking sing along part for the audience. Few minutes later first real rarity got aired as group played ”Rock The Nations,” a song I’ve personally never heard live. Crowd again sang the chorus back enthusiastically. After drum solo it was time for more metal sounding “Demon Sweeney Todd.” One of the worthwhile cuts from disappointing “Into The Labyrinth” album.

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At this point Biff picked up the set-list and started his familiar banter on how at this place they usually played “Broken Heroes” but now we could choose between that one and “The Eagle Has Landed.” The latter got more cheers thus Saxon launched into this epic number. It’s a personal favourite too, but not that rare entity. In fact it was played just the night before. However, it didn’t take anything away from the performance of this majestic number. Guitarist Paul Quinn especially shone on the track.

Saxon followed it with a rendition of another epic “Mists Of Avalon” – last effort tonight from the new album. Rest of the gig was one classic after another starting with “The Power And The Glory” and “Denim & Leather” where Biff thanked the support bands and urged everyone to “bang their heads!” Possibly my pick of the greatest Saxon song of all time “And The Bands Played On” was aired next and Biff introduced it by saying they will play festival in Finland next year again. As most obvious choice, Sauna Open Air will not take place in 2012 Saxon would be an excellent addition to any other event’s rooster. But we’ll see.

Main set concluded with “the song that started it all for us back in 1980.” Thus “Wheels Of Steel” with its immortal guitar riff was on the way. Fans as usual got another chance to sing the chorus several times, Biff got the audience going with the usual “last night we played at Stockholm..” banter. This song always works although Saxon most likely have played it during every single show for the last 30 years. The band left the stage for the first time but returned almost immediately, intro to “Crusader” answering the call. Apparently one verse is left out from the live version as opposed to the original studio cut but few noticed. Brilliant anthem!

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Biff strolled towards front of the stage with a video camera saying he was going to shoot the crowd for website podcast. Big cheers ensued. Too bad later on he found out camera didn’t work and nothing was captured on tape. On his podcast Biff told he threw it into the river.. Anyways, “747” followed everyone again singing their hearts out. Nibbs Carter did a short bass solo to signal the beginning of “Strong Arm Of The Law.” A good song but after two previous ones and what followed, was left a bit into the shadow. The last tune of the evening was naturally “Princess Of The Night,” which is one of those songs you never get tired of. The band did a reprise of the ending before exiting the stage for the final time.

A smaller club stage these days is the perfect place to catch Saxon, their energy coming through much better than on a clipped festival set in broad summer light. All players handled their parts well, drummer Nigel Glockler has been back on fold for several years now and his drum solo while brief (as drum solos really should be) showed he still had the touch. With Glockler Saxon has somewhat changed their sound towards classic early 1980’s style, which is great although I loved the heavy metal approach of “Lionheart” and “Unleash The Beast” records. Bassist Nibbs Carter is a ball of energy and on a club stage his act comes to its own, thus no-so-mobile guitarists and Biff don’t have to run around to make it seem like a rock show.

Main structure of the set has remained the same through the fall but roughly five songs have alternated and been performed in different parts of the gig. So we didn’t get “Dallas 1 PM,” “Witchfinder General,” “Battle Cry” or “Broken Heroes” but then again stuff like “Rock The Nations” and “The Eagle Has Landed” was very nice to hear instead.

Six songs from the “Call To Arms” – album was admittedly a lot, but I enjoyed them regardless. However this meant one track each from “The Inner Sanctum” and “Into The Labyrinth” aside there wasn’t anything from the albums recorded between 1995 and 2010. “Dogs Of War” and the title track of “Lionheart” would have been nice, but then again you can’t have everything. Saxon performed a 23 song set plus some songs like “Wheels Of Steel” and “Princess Of The Night” the band simply HAS to perform.

All in all when going to a Saxon concert one expects having a good time and being treated with a couple of hours of head banging rock – and that’s exactly what we got this time around. It’s great to see these old legends getting better like a classic wine. And catching Anvil was definitely a good bonus too.

Anvil setlist:

• March Of The Crabs
• 666
• Juggernaut Of Justice
• Winged Assassins
• Mothra
• Thumb Hang
• Swing Thing
• Fukeneh!
• Metal On Metal

Saxon setlist:

• Hammer Of The Gods
• Heavy Metal Thunder
• When Doomsday Comes
• Never Surrender
• Chasing The Bullet
• Motorcycle Man
• Back In ’79
• Solid Ball Of Rock
• To Hell And Back Again
• I’ve Got to Rock (To Stay Alive)
• Call To Arms
• Rock The Nations
• Demon Sweeney Todd
• The Eagle Has Landed
• Mists Of Avalon
• The Power And The Glory
• Denim And Leather
• And The Bands Played On
• Wheels Of Steel
encore:
• Crusader
• 747 (Strangers In The Night)
• Strong Arm Of The Law
• Princess Of The Night

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About Ville Krannila