On Saturday April 1, 2017, the only fools were the ones who did not get a ticket to the UFO-Saxon concert at Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, PA. Close to 2000 fans, mainly middle-aged men clad in leather and denim jackets donned with classic rock and roll patches, attended the sold out rock show at the scenic concert venue in the heart of central Pennsylvania near the Pocono Mountains. The Penn’s Peak show was the second to last on this classic US tour before heading to Europe to begin the summer festival season. Both Saxon and UFO have storied careers spanning decades with a diehard and loyal fanbase.
Newcomer, Jared James Nichols, opening for Saxon and UFO, took command of the sold-out crowd on April Fools’ Day. Solo artist, Nichols, opening for this tour has taken the music industry by storm. Recently coming out of a t0ur with Zakk Wylde, the trio of bassist Erik Sandin and drummer Dennis Holm have landed another killer gig opening for the British heavy metal legends Saxon and UFO supporting them on this tour. Having one release under their belt, Old Glory and the Wild Revival, their bluesy hard rock was energetic and infectious with an edgy rock sound and stage presence that was perfect for warming up the fans. Keep an eye on these guys. I am glad I caught them when I did as they are definitely making waves and going places. I especially love the fact he plays guitar with his fingers and without the use of a pick. Another very cool rock and roll move.
Following the shredding guitar work of opening act Jared James Nichols, Saxon stormed the stage in true classic metal style. Frontman Biff Byford, guitarists Doug Scarratt and Paul Quinn, bassist Nibbs Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler gave the fans a thrilling ride down metal lane, with their set consisting of classic 80’s Saxon songs along with a handful of their current material off Battering Ram. The thundering bass and bottom end had the peak shaking its foundations while the dueling guitar work of Scarratt and Quinn were as tight and fluid as you would expect from this classic guitar, heavy riff driven band. Saxon opened their set a little after 9 p.m. with the title track “Battering Ram” off their latest release, following with “This Town Rocks,” off Power and the Glory, and finally, the 3rd song, “Sacrifice.”
Byford sounds better than ever, looking energetic and youthful despite his age. Wearing a long black medieval style buttoned down jacket, he had no problems head-banging with his long blonde locks flailing. He worked the stage like a master frontman, all while maintaining constant interaction with the crowd acknowledging the fans and talking about living for a brief period of time in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Midway through the set, Byford gave the fans the opportunity to choose what song they wanted to hear, giving them several options to choose from including “Never Surrender,” “747 (Strangers in the Night)” or “And the Band Played On” while paying tribute to legendary British rocker Lemmy Kilmister. Closing out their seventy-five-minute set were the classics “Crusader,” “Denim and Leather” and “Princess of the Night.”
Saxon Setlist: Battering Ram, This Town Rocks, Sacrifice, Power and the Glory, KQueen of Hearts, The Eagle has Landed, Dallas 1PM, Heavy Metal, Thunder, Crusader, Wheels of Steel
Encore: Denim and Leather, Princess of the Night
Headliners UFO took the stage around 10:30 for over a ninety-minute set wrapping up at close to 12:15 am. Touring in support of their 2015 studio album A Conspiracy of Stars, UFO had the crowd from song one. The last time I saw UFO was in 1983 when they opened for Ozzy at the Broome County Arena in Binghamton, NY. Having never really listened to UFO that much, I did recognize many of their songs on the set. Opening their set with “Mother Mary,” “Long Gone” and thirdly “Run Boy Run” I was immediately impressed with the tightness and cohesiveness of the band that formed back in 1969. The energy was infectious and mesmerizing as the only two original UFO members Phil Mogg and drummer Andy Parker along with keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Paul Raymond, guitarist extraordinaire Vinnie Moore and bassist Rob De Luca, never missed a beat and were in the pocket from the first note throughout the almost two-hour long set.
Mogg, a 50 year veteran of the stage knows how to work the crowd. He is very adept at keeping the fans attention, using humor, history lessons and rock and roll charm. At times he would crack jokes about his beautiful baldness and comparing his age to that of some of the guys in the crowd that were lucky enough to still have hair, albeit, grey. Mogg, pushing 70 years old, remains ever youthful and spry onstage while captivating the crowd delivering the classic UFO sound that fans have loved for close to five decades.
With a catalog of almost 50 years of material to choose from, including hits from the classic albums Lights Out, Obsession, Strangers in the Night, and more, it was no surprise they played for almost two hours solid as the fans remained for the encore numbers.
UFO Setlist: Mother Mary, Long Gone, Run Boy Run, Lights Out, Baby Blue, Only You Can Rock Me, Let it Roll, Burn Your House Down, Too, Hot to Handle, Messiah of Love, Love to Love, Rock Bottom
Encore: Cherry, Doctor Doctor, Shoot Shoot