February 7 2015 – With an unrivaled determination and a landscape built on a nearly 40 year discography, SAGA kicked off their 2015 World Tour in their home town of Toronto with what can be easily described as one of the best shows our city has seen in many years.
Two opening bands warmed up the crowd and they both were perfect complements to the headliners. Suns of Stone is a harder type blues rock band that can’t be described as prog by any means but they delivered a blistering set of good old rock tunes. We are familiar with lead singer Alan Charlton from an earlier band of his, and can’t say enough about the power of his voice – one that sounds like Ian Astbury of The Cult.
Next up was David Barrett Trio who are hard rock prog masters of the highest magnitude. Their first album was produced by Alex Lifeson and the instrumental three piece play complex songs cut from the same musical stylings as Rush’s YYZ or La Villa Strangiato. David Barrett Trio used the night as their CD release party and 8 songs were presented (Quark, Atomsmasher, Chasing Sound, Hollowbody, Great Eastern Sun, Ravenswood, Elegant Universe, and Sonar).
To be honest if the night was just Suns of Stone and David Barrett Trio playing longer sets it would have been a kick ass night of rock and roll, but as much love as we have for those two bands, let there be no mistake – this was SAGA’s night. A song usually reserved for the end (or even the encore) kicked off the night – here is Don’t Be Late.
Riding the strength of a couple of very solid albums in the last few years, SAGA is in top form and the virtuosity of their individual performances along with some magical vibes in the air ensured that the Phoenix Concert Theatre was the place to be on Saturday February 7 2015. Front-man Michael Sadler cemented his place as one of the finest rock singers our country has ever produced, and is right up there with Plant, Mercury, and Daltrey in terms of stage presence. In fact having seen Plant many times in the last few years I have no reservations saying that Sadler is currently a much stronger voice.
Jim Gilmour continues to blow everyone away with his superb keyboard skills but also his vocals, and the sing along he earned from the audience for Scratching The Surface was surreal. He introduced the song with an ode to his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs, who a few hours earlier ended their longest losing streak in franchise history. Drummer Mike Thorne is the new guy who is not really that new anymore but he is a monster on the kit. Showing uncanny proficiency on both the electric drums and the real ones, he was flanked by a giant tuning fork in front of his kit all night. Having joined the band less than 3 years ago, he sure fit in with the guys that have been playing most of these songs for more than 30 years and his drum solo in the middle of the show was truly remarkable.
The brothers Crichton were up to their renowned wizardry. Ian Crichton is a guitar legend and he reminds us constantly that the foundation of all the electronic sound of the band is still based on good old electric 6 string guitar. His numerous solos were delivered with an eerie smoothness and the complexity gets lost on how easily he delivers the goods. Jim Crichton splits his time between bass and his minimoog but is a master of both, and when his eyes focused like a laser on a groove, he threw it out with great pride as the creator/producer of much of the music on display tonight.
The stage was set up in an unorthodox configuration with Sadler in the middle (mostly behind his dual Korg kit), Jim Crichton and Jim Gilmour to his right, and Ian Crichton and Mike Thorne to his left. The two guys in the back – Gilmour and Thorne were pretty much facing each other most of the night in a 45 degree angle to the front center of stage. Pretty cool setup actually and one that worked particularly well that night. The biggest surprise was how much time Sadler spent on his keys as opposed to the front of the stage but we heard he had a foot injury earlier and took the opportunity to rest on the stool behind the kit as much as feasible without jeopardizing the show’s dynamics.
Drawing primarily from a setlist from what is widely considered the band’s golden era, SAGA’s first five albums (released 1978-1983) provided the songs that formed the majority of tonight’s show. In fact of the 16 songs, 12 of them were drawn from the early works of the band. The only exceptions were Wildest Dreams and three new songs from SAGA’s latest album entitled Sagacity (2014).1. Don’t Be Late – from Silent Knight 1980 2. Someone Should – from Silent Knight 1980 3. You’re Not Alone – from Images at Twilight 1979 4. Hot To Cold– from Images at Twilight 1979 5. On The Loose – from World’s Apart 1981 6. On My Way – from Sagacity 2014 7. Scratching The Surface – from Heads or Tales 1983 8. Time To Go – from Silent Knight 1980 9. I’ll Be – from Sagacity 2014 10. Drum Solo 11. Wildest Dreams – from Wildest Dreams 1987 12. Ice Nice – from Saga 1978 13. Go With The Flow – from Sagacity 2014 14. Humble Stance – from Saga 1978 15. Careful Where You Step – from Silent Knight 1980 16. Wind Him Up – from World’s Apart 1981 17. The Flyer – from Heads or Tales 1983
A major highlight of the show was Wildest Dreams which during its introduction, Sadler stated that it was the song that most fans wanted to hear on a Facebook poll (overwhelmingly) and a song that he thinks that the band never played live before. If Setlist.FM is considered an accurate resource, the band has in fact played the song before – 5 times in 1988 and once each in 1997 and 1998.
The usual hits were delivered to great singalongs and there was no doubt that every single person in attendance knew Don’t Be Late, You’re Not Alone, On The Loose, Scratching The Surface, Humble Stance, Wind Him Up and The Flyer. Having said that SAGA have a very loyal fan base (primarily in Europe) and the Canadian contingent was there in full force. One could sense that it was the deep cuts that the hardcore fans wanted to hear but more importantly the average fans were very responsive to songs they were not familiar with. Complex and beautiful songs like Ice Nice, Time To Go, and Hot To Cold truly stood the test of time and sounded tight.
Here is Ice Nice:
The Phoenix was the perfect venue at this point for SAGA and with a few more hometown shows and the word of mouth getting out, they will be ready to take on Massey Hall – a historic venue which we feel is the ideal place in the city to watch the band. The backdrop of the stage was an appropriate of imagery from the band’s discography (including a big Detours arrow) of sci-fi inspired images.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 – Before the concert Michael Sadler stated on Facebook that “there’s definitely a vibe in the air!” This was not some last ditch attempt to sell more tickets before the show or a guy blowing hot air. SAGA were on fire tonight and delivered a show worthy of the history books and there most certainly was a vibe in the air, a vibe of incredible progressive and complex rock of the highest order.
If you have not seen SAGA before (or not for a very long time), do not miss out seeing them at their current musical peak. I am not a music critic, nor do I make any money at all running this website, but having the opportunity to “review” a show so damn good sure makes all the effort worth it. Cheers guys!
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