Saxon is certainly no stranger to the stage or to “live” albums, including its recent 2012 Wacken performance. Each of the band’s nine live efforts is special, but “St. George’s Day Sacrifice – Live in Manchester” is certainly one of the best and made more special by the import of its namesake. Saxon has made a tradition of playing a special show each year in honor of England’s patron Saint George. The release of this amazing double disc set even coincided with week of the celebrated day, traditionally noted as the date of his death, April 23.
For some two hours on St. George’s Day in 2013, Saxon lit up The Ritz in Manchester performing over 20 songs for a rowdy and raucously appreciative crowd. The album was produced by Saxon vocalist, Biff Byford, and mixed and mastered by the legendary Andy Sneap (Megadeth, Exodus, Testament, Carcass). Unlike so many live albums rock fans have grown accustomed to, “St. George’s Day Sacrifice – Live in Manchester” is a real live effort, not overproduced and canned in the studio.
Saxon kick off this latest live endeavor with three tracks from its 2013 album, “Sacrifice”; opening the set with the title track, “Wheels of Terror”, and “Made in Belfast”. Slipped between the latter two the band journeyed back 30 years for a rousing take on the classic, “Power and the Glory” from 1983’s album of the same name.
From ‘85’s “Innocence is No Excuse” the band regaled the crowd with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Gypsy”. At this point Byford offers fans a choice of tracks to choose as the next song, which becomes, “And the Bands Played On” from ‘81’s “Denim and Leather” album.
The band then moved forward to 2007 for “I’ve Got to Rock (To Stay Alive)” then back to present for “Night of the Wolf”. It is noticeably apparent how well the band’s current material stands side by side with its classic works. This live retrospective bears out not just Saxon’s live chops, but its ability to remain relevant when so many of their contemporaries struggle just to rehash their hits tour after tour.
Throughout the night, Saxon leapfrogged back and forth across its 35+ year career. From “Conquistador” in 1999 (which features a nice drum solo from Nigel Glockler) to a special take on “Broken Heroes” from ’85 to “Guardians of the Tomb” in 2013. That’s just to close out the first disc.
Saxon spent the majority of the second half of the show celebrating the songs from the band’s 80s heyday. From “Never Surrender” and the band’s cover of the Christopher Cross hit, “Ride Like the Wind” to “Crusader” and “Dallas 1 PM”, the band performs with heart and reverence for its storied roots in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
The lone modern era track performed in the second half is “Stand Up and Fight” from the “Sacrifice” album.
The show’s final five tracks bring the show to a close with vintage bombast. The band perform hit after hit with “747 (Strangers In The Night)”, “Strong Arm Of The Law”, “Denim And Leather” and “Princess Of The Night”. The latter was a true treat as it is an oft overlooked Saxon classic, and Byford pulled the fans in to a cacophonous audience participation segment on “Wheels Of Steel”.
Despite mentioning the song a few times during the show, the band’s dominating hit, “Motorcycle Man” does not appear on this 2-disc set. But after 21 songs and two hours of metal, it is a forgivable omission.
Byford, Glockler, bassists Nibbs Carter and guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt do a simply amazing job. Every performance is top-notch. Byford is ingratiating at every turn, engaging fans and sharing stories. St. George would be honored indeed.
Some may ask, do we really need another live Saxon album? The answer is, you better damn well believe we do. “St. George’s Day Sacrifice – Live in Manchester” is one all Saxon fans will want for their collection and all fans of traditional metal should pick up as well. Saxon were among the pioneers of NWOBHM, and they remain alongside Iron Maiden as the torchbearers who continue to wave the flag proudly!