For a city known to get absolutely giddy when classic rockers pay a visit, last Saturday night's San Antonio Saxon and UFO double bill almost sent the city into overdrive. The show was too hot to handle.
Saxon has been the headliner followed by the featured set by UFO for the nearly month-long North American tour. The order was flipped exclusively for San Antonio, where UFO has a renowned history but Saxon's is that much more. Both bands visited two years ago when their still-most-recent albums were brand new. The latest showing was meant to be a colossal collection of classics with a dash of modern-day music thrown in. It was also supposed to occur in the parking lot of Alamo City Music Hall before 3,000-plus fans, much like when Saxon headlined outdoors at the venue in 2013 with Fozzy.
With the possibility of wet weather lingering all week, local promoters, the venue and Saxon made the call to move the gig inside the dungeon-like, 1,200 capacity downtown hall. The switch made the gig an instant sell-out, hanging procrastinating ticket buyers out to dry in the muggy heat the morning of the concert. Approximately 1,500 somehow packed their way inside with more outside the hall fiddling with their phones, smoking or simply listening to the music they couldn't witness inside. They saw, or at least heard, another show for San Antonio's classic metal annals.
Also featured in direct support were guitarist Jared James Nichols and his trio who were making their San Antonio debut. Plus, local openers Seance and S.A. Territories.
AXS was given exclusive access to Saxon's soundcheck during the afternoon and the group opened their set with one of the tunes they performed during that time, the title track to 2015's Battering Ram. With fans at the barrier holding a sign that said "This town know's (sic) how to rock," Saxon's second offering made the sign come to life with their 1983 track "This Town Rocks."
Vocalist Biff Byford, guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, bassist Tim "Nibbs" Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler continued the onslaught of favorites with the title track to 2013's Sacrifice and '80s mainstays such as "Power and the Glory," "Never Surrender" and obligatory tunes "Wheels of Steel" and "Denim and Leather." Given "The Dungeon's" lack of lighting wich made it virtually impossible to see both bands' drummers perched on the riser at the back of the stage, take this word that Glockler was, in fact, playing his kit. The newly turned Austin resident, who overcame a ruptured brain aneurysm in Dec. 2014, was a guest next door last Oct. at The Rock Box, joining San Antonio bassist Don Van Stavern and his veteran power-metal band Riot on stage for "Denim and Leather" (coverage here).
Following "Dallas 1 p.m.," Byford and Saxon deviated from the setlist by playing "Northern Lady," a favorite of the late Alamo City disc jockey Joe "The Godfather" Anthony, who broke many international bands in the States in the early '80s by being the first to spin their music. Byford discussed with AXS prior to the gig his band's part in that local history and Anthony's penchant for playing that song (watch here). Byford introduced the tune by saying it is Saxon's "closest thing to a ballad." Afterward, he added, "We only play that song in one place: San Antonio. Maybe we should play it everywhere." Saxon then went into another unplanned tune in "Motorcycle Man," the track Byford discussed during the interview which was performed with Metallica during the latter's 30th anniversary set of shows in 2011 in San Francisco. Saxon scrapped their first scheduled encore "747 (Strangers in the Night)" in favor of "Crusader," followed by "Denim and Leather" and the finale "Princess of the Night."
While the presence of fire marshals was somehow avoided, Byford noted Saxon wouldn't take long to return when he told the audience at show's end, "I know a lot of people couldn't get in tonight."
Although clouds apparent most of Saturday gave way to clear skies 30 minutes before S.A. Territories kicked off the evening, the call to move the show indoors proved to be the right one. Steady rain fell eventually, particularly during UFO's set but that wasn't enough to stop original vocalist, Phil Mogg, from being his usual comedic self between songs or stop the band from performing as solidly as usual. After running the gamut for a good chunk of the group's career with the first three tunes alone — 1981 opener "Long Gone," 2015's "Run Boy Run" and 1977's popular "Lights Out," the 68-year-old singer held up a drink and said, "This is a new flavor of Gatorade that has the appearance of beer."
Co-founded by Mogg and drummer Andy Parker, UFO continued the steady parade of its arsenal with "Only You Can Rock Me" and "Too Hot to Handle." The crowd went nuts when Mogg introduced "Love to Love" and it was difficult to tell who enjoyed the extended guitar solo on "Rock Bottom" more, the crowd or Vinnie Moore himself. Bassist Rob De Luca, who also plays in the solo band of original Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach and includes San Antonio drummer Bobby Jarzombek, laid down the low end in fine style while Paul Raymond made his presence felt on rhythm guitar and keyboards.
UFO's tour manager came out to the photographer's pit and held up five fingers in the middle of Moore's "Rock Bottom" spotlight, an odd sight for multiple reasons. Not only because of the timing within the song but because the indicator that the band only had that many minutes remaining gave way to the realization it didn't seem right attending a UFO show and not hearing traditional encores "Doctor Doctor" and "Shoot Shoot." Not to mention that on its headline dates, the first of UFO's three encores had been "Cherry," as was written on this night's setlist as well.
But that was the price San Antonio paid to have Saxon headline its city exclusively, despite the near-deafening chants of "U-F-O" when the band finished. Considering the big picture — the wealth of classic British metal on display in one night — that price was a small and fulfilling one.
SAXON SETLIST: "Battering Ram," "This Town Rocks," "Sacrifice," "And the Bands Played On," "Power and the Glory," "Never Surrender," "Stand Up and Be Counted," "Queen of Hearts," "Strong Arm of the Law," "The Eagle Has Landed," "Chasing the Bullet," "Dallas 1 p.m.," "Northern Lady," "Motorcycle Man," "Wheels of Steel." ENCORES: "Crusader," "Denim and Leather," "Princess of the Night"
UFO SETLIST: "Long Gone," "Run Boy Run," "Lights Out," "Baby Blue," "Ain't No Baby," "Only You Can Rock Me," "Burn Your House Down," "Too Hot to Handle," "Messiah of Love," "Love to Love," "Rock Bottom"