Formed in Los Angeles in 1982 by brothers Phil & Gonzo Sandoval (guitar & drums), John Bush (vocals), Joey Vera (bass) and Dave Pritchard (guitar), Armored Saint should have been huge; they certainly had the pedigree. So much so that in ’83, following the release of Kill ‘Em All, Lars Ulrich asked John to sing for Metallica because James Hetfield wanted to just concentrate on playing guitar. And in ’86, after the sad loss of Cliff Burton, Ulrich again approached the Saint and asked Joey to try out for the vacant slot. Metallica are clearly big fans of the talent these guys possess with both bands touring together many times over the years.
Following the tragic death of Dave Pritchard to leukaemia in 1990, former Odin/DC4 guitarist, Jeff Duncan joined the band. However record company issues ensued and the band decided to call it a day in ’92 and John Bush headed off and joined Anthrax until Joey Belladonna’s return in ’99.
Fast forward 18 years and add in a couple more hiatuses/reformations and 3 more studio albums, and Armored Saint hit Birmingham for the first time ever.
Opening with Win Hands Down, it’s frenetic, loud and heavy. The musicianship is incredible. The twin guitar attack by Jeff & Phil compliment so well with the pounding that Gonzo gives the skins and Joey’s, at times, almost funky, bass delivery. But it is John Bush’s voice that steals the show for me. You can see why Metallica wanted him so badly, it’s so powerful in this tiny 250 capacity venue.
Yes that’s right, a band of this class playing a place the size of your living room.
March Of The Saint, Long Before I Die and After Me, The Flood continues in the same vein. The “older” crowd were lapping it up and singing along at the tops of their collective voices. This really is going to be a trip across all the albums. Everything slots together like a well-made piece of furniture; old and new sit side by side, In An Instant, An Exercise In Debauchery, Last Train Home, Chemical Euphoria, Stricken By Fate and Mess; it’s just one great, head down, hook laden song after another.
Something that Armored Saint have been able to do effortlessly over the years is to keep coming up huge riffs and songs that clearly showcase each band member’s talents within one song, the truly epic Aftermath really highlights this. It is quickly followed up by Left Hook From Right Field and the main set comes to an end with Reign Of Fire. John Bush really does like to use the whole of his stage, at one point climbing up the PA to sit on the top of it and sing.
The band don’t go off stage for the “fake” encore but the crowd still chant their name anyway. John comments that it is an honour to be finally playing in Birmingham after all these years, home to their heroes, Sabbath and Priest, and then asks if we still want to sing. Do we? Er…. Oh hell yeah we do. The riff to Can U Deliver? belts out of the PA and I defy you not to nod your head to it. Mad House then brings it all to a crazy close.
They sometimes say it’s better not to meet your heroes as they usually end up disappointing you; not so with these guys. Warm handshakes and conversation all round with a lot of thanks from the band for taking the time to come and watch the show.
This has been a night of old school rock at its finest and those songs, some of which are 30+ years old still sounded as fresh as ever. Was it nostalgia and fond memories filling/clouding my 48 year old head? Not at all, class is permanent, some younger bands could learn a hell of a lot from a show like this.