Saxon – O2 Academy (Oxford, UK) 13, Dec 2011

It has been 20 years since Saxon last rocked Oxford. Tonight was an electric return.

Two walls of black amplifiers branded with the famous Marshall name stand in formidable line at the back of the O2 Academy Oxford stage. Behind them a huge banner drapes over the entire space adorned with one word that will guarantee tonight’s audience should prepare for maximum rock: Saxon.

Before one of the original bands of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal cranked up their guitars, however, Swedish metal monsters HammerFall stomp onto the stage. Their tight, hooky power metal quickly gets the tightly packed crowd thrusting their fists into the air. Songs like One More Time, Last Man Standing, and Hearts on Fire are pounding, anthemic metal tunes that blast energy from the stage. The crowd loves every second; HammerFall hits the ground at full sprint

Despite being so close they can probably smell the end of their enormous Call To Arms World Tour, Saxon show no signs of fatigue. The 2-hour set is performed almost air-tight but with none of the over-rehearsed sheen of some touring bands. It’s no surprise that a proper heavy metal band is putting on a proper heavy metal show.

With such a huge back catalogue to choose from, Saxon’s set list boasts an impressive selection. Power And The Glory, To Hell And Back Again, I’ve Got To Rock (To Stay Alive) and Rock The Nations get equally loud cheers from the crowd signalled by the rousing riffs of guitarists Doug Scarratt and Paul Quinn.

Lead singer Biff Byford’s consummate professionalism is inspiring to watch. Too many youngsters would do well to watch him. He draws the crowd in with simply a look and we’re charged up and ready to rock with him. ‘I went to San Francisco last week to play with Metallica,’ Byford tells the crowd. ‘I was just about to tell you I flew on a seven forty-seven!’ he screams before the band launch into 747 (Strangers In The Night). Now that’s a segue.

It’s a big compliment to the band that 2011’s impressive Call To Arms album peppers the set and tracks such as Back In ‘79 and Call To Arms fit seamlessly with older material. Byford takes time to salute the crowd after every word of the newer songs is sung back to him from the crowd.

Saxon has been going for over 30 years with virtually no sign of slowing down. Much of their success was built upon one song but on tonight’s showing there is no sign of wear on Saxon’s Wheels Of Steel.