Houston, Texas March 9, 2017
“Houston, we have liftoff.” Where else but the home city of NASA should legendary British rock bands, UFO and Saxon, blast off for their US tour? The lucky fans that flocked to The Scout Bar in Houston for the first show were not disappointed.
The Scout Bar is known for its packed houses, where fans that crave the sonic assault of yesterday and today’s best bands gather to soak in gritty ambiance. Guitars line the walls of the venue, many signed by bands that helped raise the roof in past years. On one side is the bar area, with high-rise tables and booths for relaxing and more mellow experiences. The other side of The Scout Bar is much grittier; a nirvana for hard core fans. Up close, hot and sweaty, drunk and sometimes chemically enhanced. It’s a chance for fist pumping, pic catching, and other unique experiences.
I was looking forward to seeing the differences in the crowds in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. The three largest cities in Texas boast wildly different populations. The Houston crowd was older, but they came to rock. Fans came from as far as Sacramento, California. Many were sporting their old concert t-shirts and patch-adorned jean jackets.
The Jared James Nichols band opened the show. Finger picking is normally difficult, but Jared pulls it off with ease. With Eric on bass and Dennis on drums, they round out this gutsy, hard rock trio. They succeeded in getting the crowd worked up for the main acts. A special treat was the band’s final song, a cover of “Mississippi Queen,” a Southern favorite from the 1970’s.
After a brief intermission and the fastest set-change I have witnessed, the lights dimmed. SAXON-The indomitable metal powerhouse band that has spanned 40+ years. Constant touring and an energetic live performance have kept them a force to be reckoned with. With a 12-song set, including a double encore, the band was on point. “Biff” Byford’s interaction with the Houston crowd was fun and light-hearted. The music, though, was a high voltage metal paradise. They played tracks from most of their releases, including their 2015 album Battering Ram Classics, like “This Town Knows How to Rock” and “Dallas 1 PM” mixed with “Queen of Hearts” and the title track of the 2015 release, ”Battering Ram.” Biff left a few open spots for the audience to pick their favorites which kept the night speeding along. His banter back and forth between the crowd members whittled down their choices:
“Old or New?”
“Fast or Slow?”
With fists and “horns in the air,” the Houstonians and out of towners, witnessed an event that boggled the mind. Whatever the formula, Biff and the boys did not disappoint. With 40 plus years under their belt, the energy and power was the same as it ever was.
Judging from the looks of the faces that surrounded me, everyone was riled up for the final act. When UFO hit the stage, the crowd went nuts. UFO, another band with decades of touring under their belt, are no strangers to venues both small and large. The years have been good to them. Andy Parker, Paul Raymond and Phil Mogg have kept the music alive. With Vinnie Moore and Rob De Luca joining the band several years ago, the band became fresh and energized. Add in more worldwide touring to help tighten up the camaraderie on stage, and they were ready to go.
Not one song disappointed the crowd. Classics like “Lights Out,” “Only You Can Rock Me,” and “Too Hot To Handle” pushed the crowd into a frenzy. When they needed to balance the show out with a few from their latest release, “Run Boy Run” and “Messiah of Love” did the trick. If anyone has not heard the new release, Conspiracy of Stars, go get it!
They finished off the main set with “Love To Love” and “Rock Bottom” which set the stage for their encore. Proof the band is a bundle of energy, was when Phil waved off their tour manager at the break between main set and the encores. I have never seen that in my 40 years of concerts. The band jumped right into the final three songs- “Cherry,” “Doctor, Doctor,” and “Shoot, Shoot.”
So, with the first show in the books, it was off to Big D: Dallas. I drove through the night in anticipation of a
totally different experience.