Saxon (w/ Fastaway, Girlschool) @ O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire (London, UK) on November 5, 2016 [Show Review]

- Nov 29, 2016 at 01:43AM
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Ahead of tonight's sold-out gig at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in West London, the lineup, consisting of acts associated with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), promised to provide a night to remember, and so it proved.

First up was Girlschool, rock's longest-running all-female band and great friends of Lemmy and Motörhead. Lead singer and one of only two constant members of the group since their inception in 1978 (the other is drummer Denise Dufort), Kim McAuliffe, dedicated "Take It Like a Band" off their most recent album, 2015's Guilty As Sin, to Lemmy and late Motörhead drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor. Other songs performed by this pioneering quartet (bass player Enid Williams is an original member, while lead guitarist Jackie "Jax" Chambers has been in the band since 2000) were "Hit and Run", "Emergency" and "Demolition Boys".

Next came Fastway, a 'supergroup' led by "Fast" Eddie Clarke (from Motörhead's classic lineup of Lemmy, Clarke and Taylor) and ex-Little Angels vocalist Toby Jepson. Whereas Girlschool displayed more of an NWOBHM sound, Fastway lean more towards a bluesy, classic rock stance a lot of which has to do with Jepson's jaw-dropping vocal delivery and electric stage presence on tracks like "Touch Me".

To the strains of AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)," Saxon took to the stage at around 9:10pm and immediately got the crowd going with the title track from last year's Battering Ram, their outstanding 21st studio album.

"Shepherd's Bush, let me feel your power!" exclaimed lead singer and founding member Biff Byford ahead of "Let Me Feel Your Power". The smoke machines were used for the first time on "Sacrifice" and "Solid Ball of Rock" was a pumping sing-a-long. "Here's a song from the '80s", said Byford, announcing "Never Surrender", a track from arguably their finest album, 1981's Denim and Leather. It wouldn't be the last time tonight that Saxon would revisit metal's greatest decade (and one of their most popular albums).

Early on, a flag of St George with some writing on it was handed to Byford who promptly hung it on the front of Nigel Glockler's drum kit. I couldn't make out all of what it said, just the words: "Can you hear us Lemmy? Tonight is for you." Further tributes to Mr Kilmister would follow...

Speaking was kept to a minimum ("Are you feeling good?" and "Are you having a good time?" was pretty much it for the majority of the show), though the charismatic frontman did get the crowd singing on more than one occasion. Instead, the band preferred to let their songs do the talking. "Strong Arm of the Law", "Killing Ground", "Dallas 1PM", "Queen of Hearts" and "Wheels of Steel" were just some of the highlights in a set packed full of songs that spanned their 40-year career. Special mention must also go to bass player Nibbs Carter whose tireless energy was a joy to behold.

For the first encore, Saxon brought "Fast" Eddie back out on stage for a rousing rendition of "Ace of Spades". This was followed by "747 (Strangers in the Night)", track three on 1980's Wheels of Steel an album regarded as one of the finest in the genre. At the start of the second encore, Byford introduced "Denim and Leather" by saying: "We wrote this back in the day about our audience then, and some of them are still here. It's great to see people from different generations here too and we'd like to welcome you all to the party", and what a party it was.
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