It's easy to tell when an audience has enjoyed a gig – just listen to the applause – but it can be less obvious whether or not the band got a similar kick out of the show. Not, however, tonight.
After taking three bows and with his bandmates having retired to the dressing room, Peter 'Biff' Byford lingers on the Warehouse 23 stage, the acclamation of the fans ringing in his ears, clearly touched by the waves of affection breaking over him. Loving it? You bet… Reluctantly, he gives a final wave and heads for the stage door as the rest of us likewise turn and exit into the cold November night, warmed by the timeless visceral energy of rock music.
Really, the entire night constituted a mutual love-in between a band revelling in as near as they're likely to get these days to a homecoming show and a crowd (by no means all of them old enough to remember the first time) there to pay homage to a Yorkshire heavy metal institution.
Byford is 64 years old and, to be frank, he looks it as he moves ponderously around the stage with just the odd flick of his grey mane in homage to the halcyon headbanging days. But if age and rock 'n' roll have taken their toll on his appearance, his voice remains powerfully intact: a magnificent megaphone, roaring, soaring and screaming, just as it did when Saxon were riding the New Wave of British Heavy Metal back in 1980 and all that.
With a new album (number 23, no less) to plug, it was inevitable the show would open with its title track Battering Ram, which does exactly what it says on the tin (CD sleeve? Smartphone screen?). Contractual obligation out of the way, it was straight into golden oldie number one, Motorcycle Man, before the classics came thick and fast, punctuated by easy banter with the crowd and, of course, the inevitable “Saxon, Saxon” and “Yorkshire, Yorkshire” chants.
Most of the new songs (Destroyer, Eye Of The Storm, Hard And Fast and The Devil's Footprint) are cast in the classic Saxon mould, the exception being the expansive, atmospheric Queen Of Hearts. All were well received – but, as shouted demands almost from the word 'go' revealed, it was 747 and Wheels Of Steel the crowd had come to hear. We got those two (the latter in an encore which climaxed with 80s metalheads' anthem Denim And Leather); we got And The Bands Played On; we got Power And The Glory, Never Surrender, The Eagle Has Landed and Strong Arm Of The Law.
It's 35 years since your reviewer was passing through his lank-haired, denim-jacketed teenage heavy rocker phase. Musical tastes may broaden and fashion choices change with age – but a gig like this cuts right through the baggage of time and goes straight for the unchanging, unconscious gut instinct. Heavy Metal Thunder indeed: just ask Biff Byford!
Wf L rating: 4.5/5