Friday, April 7, 2017

A Feeling Like No Other

It's 10 PM, Thursday night and there's two drunk women standing behind me that are yacking away like no tomorrow. There is a tall bald man that's obstructing most of my view to the left of me. I am packed like a sardine in a smelly bar.
There truly is nothing as special as a rock/metal concert. For 2-3 hours you surround yourself in a tiny jam packed room to see a performance of epic proportions take place. You travel hundreds of miles, in my case over 300, to see your idols damage your hearing and take you to another planet. It brings a euphoria like no other that encompasses your entire being from start to finish.
This time, at the Scout Bar in Houston, it was UFO and Saxon, two British Heavy Metal bands who stole my life away for that one occasion where I would become a true Stranger In The Night.

Upon arrival to the scene, you get the sense that this is the place to be for a concert. The Scout Bar is located in a remote part of Houston, smooshed in between a couple shopping centers. This might seem like an unorthodox location for a concert venue, but trust me, the crummier the location of the joint, the better the atmosphere. The smell of beer and the sound of rock music is scented from about a block away from the bar, almost like some sort of smoke signal welcoming all who dare enter this realm. The tickets are flashed, the door is open, it is time to rock on.

The first band on the stage when we arrive is a relatively unknown one. James Jared Nichols is up there rocking about and making a lot of new fans doing it. Opening bands are usually a hit or miss, some create a name for themselves, while others warrant stuff being thrown at them with their heinous performance, this is not condoned in my book but it happens. This band was definitely the former as they kicked major ass on stage. Their live presence was great and they gave a great 70s feel to their music, clashing the likes of Ted Nugent and Creedence Clearwater Revival into one. James Jared Nichols, along with bassist Erik Sandin and drummer Dennis Holm, won my heart over and made a fan out of me. I would recommend a name change, but their performance gets a A+ from me!

When I first heard of this concert in late 2016, I was well aware of who Saxon and UFO were. They pioneered the movement known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM, in the late 1970s-early 1980s. They were always cool in my book, but I had never dived too deep into their discography. Between the two, my favorite had to be UFO. Their 1974 album Phenomenon is one of my favorite albums of all time and I knew all the members' names, they were just the band I knew more. As the months went on and my research grew and grew on the two bands and by the time the concert arrived it was clear on who I was more excited to see. Saxon had grown into one of my favorite bands by the time the concert inched closer and I was more than ecstatic to see vocalist Biff Byford and the whole gang. Their song "747(Strangers In The Night)" had become possibly my favorite song in the waning months and I was so pumped to hear it live. As the minutes ticked away, I knew that this would be one of the greatest experiences of my life. The band walked on the stage with the echoing of AC/DC's "Long Way To The Top" blasting through the speakers. There they were, Saxon, the band that rocked my eardrums and my room with their albums Wheels of Steel, Strong Arm Of The Law, Crusader, among many others, and I am here front row to witness the whole event. The set starts with "Battering Ram", a song off their 2015 album of the same name, letting the whole venue know that this is a Heavy Metal concert and not for the faint of heart. "This Town Rocks" follows suit, a song made for live performance, made to stroke the ego in attendance that their town does indeed rock. Their 2013 rocker "Sacrifice" is played, another rather new song from the old band who are clearly not afraid to play their new material. The band takes us back to 1983 with "The Power and The Glory" after a quick discussion between the band members on what year the album was actually released. Byford makes a joke that "When you have 21 albums you forget when each one was made." The band then dedicates their next song to the late Lemmy Kilmister with "Rock N' Roll Gypsy". "Dallas 1PM" makes its way to our ears after confirmation that it is not yet 1PM and we are several miles southeast of Dallas. Several more Saxon hits are played before the final song is
announced. The band thanks the audience before signing off with their finale. "Princess of the Night" is the swan song tonight. It caps off what was a heavy mixture of power and aggression. Saxon still has it, and I am glad I was able to witness this concert. But wait, where was "747"? Where was my favorite, and perhaps Saxon's most famous song? Where was what I was waiting hours to hear? I am torn between feelings of sheer joy and heartbreak. I decide to let the feeling pass because Saxon was really freakin' awesome! I give Saxon's performance a 9/10. Only missing the perfect 10 because of their exclusion of my favorite song. I will definitely go see them again if they tour the USA again. The mighty Saxon fights on!

Concertgoers are usually a happy bunch. They take pride in their music and just want to see a good show and have a great time. They usually know which band is the one they are there for and will make it well known. On this night, it was UFO. They were the main headliner after all, and one look at the crowd would show why. The audience was glittered with UFO shirts, and it was clear that they were the band most people were here to see. I could not blame them, UFO was a great band back in the day. They made a huge name for themselves with albums like Lights Out and Force It. They were well on their way to being regarded a giant in the rock world in the late 70s before internal problems proved their downfall. Today, the are relatively forgotten and it is quite a shame, but us hardcore Hard Rock fans will not let their name die just yet. Personally, I have always been more of a fan of UFO's early space rock material on UFO 1 and UFO 2, and the aforementioned Phenomenon is one of my favorite albums ever. I knew the contents of these albums would be largely omitted from their setlist and was ready to hear what their hard rock stuff was all about. The band chooses to come out to a long drawn out keyboard intro, a more classic approach to entering the stage. All the preparation is about to pay off and UFO is ready to abduct us all. They start off the set with the 1981 ballad "Long Gone", a good choice for a concert of this magnitude. UFO proves they are also brave in their set selection with a song off their 2012 album Seven Deadly with the song "Wonderland". They take us all the way back to 2015 with "Run Boy Run", showing that they choose to play their new songs early and get them out of the way rather than spreading them in between their more known material. The band continued with their classic "Lights Out", a song that truly demonstrates the vocal ability of Phil Mogg, one of my favorite vocalists. The color blue illuminates the venue and the band plays their 2004 ballad "Baby Blue". The band returns to rock form with "Ain't No Baby". Dave Raymond, who duos as the band's keyboardist and rhythm guitarist, gets to show off both of his skills on this number.  UFO plays classics like "Too Hot to Handle" and "Only You Can Rock Me" before wowing the crowd with their performance of "Love to Love". "Love to Love" is regarded by Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris as his favorite song, UFO bassist Rob De Luca does well on this song and proves that he is the man for the job of filling the shoes of former UFO bassist, the legendary Pete Way. When talking about UFO, it is hard not to mention Michael Schenker. The blonde bomber is often regarded as one of the greatest guitar virtuosos of all-time. Unfortunately, personal conflicts led to his departure from the band years ago. In his place, UFO have found a great person and great guitar player in Vinnie Moore. One of Schenker's fondest moments was on the epic Rock Bottom, which the band chose to close tonight's set with. It sounds just as awesome live as it does on record, if not better! After a couple amazing solos by Moore, the band closes the set and the night is done. That is until the band return to the stage for the well-anticipated encore. After addressing a heckling fan about not calling people wankers, the band plays their most famous song, Doctor Doctor, to extreme fanfare. It is the moment in the show that most have been waiting to hear, and it was well worth the wait. The much loved and respected drummer Andy Parker gets to show off his skills here as the band take us to a new level. The band signs off of their final performance of "Shoot Shoot", a song leaving us satisfied but wanting more. The trance is over, the concert is over, and I spent a good $33 tonight.

After the concert, with my hearing impaired, I purchased two shirts, one of each band, a James Jared Nichols vinyl, and even got to meet James Jared Nichols himself! We went home and the night was history.

Rock/Metal music is amazing to listen to, and even better to experience. If you have never been to a concert, I strongly advise it. There is NOTHING that compares to it. Thank you to Saxon, UFO, and James Jared Nichols, for giving me a night that I will never forget!

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