Canadian prog/pop/AOR rockers Saga have had a long and storied career. From progressive rock upstarts on their first three albums, to FM rock radio and Billboard darlings with releases like Worlds Apart and Heads Or Tales, to years of almost invisibility here in the US, to a new resurgence with the prog community thanks to their latest release Trust on InsideOut Music, Saga's music has always spoken for itself over a long career than spans over 20 albums. Recently the band played their first gig in the US in 22 years, appearing at the BB King Blues Club in New York City on July 22nd. Sea of Tranquility's Ken Pierce, Pete Pardo, and Webmaster Greg Stewart were on hand for the show, and also had a chance to speak to guitarist Ian Crichton backstage for a few moments before the show.
Read on for this exclusive coverage!
Ken Pierce- It has been 22 years since the band Saga last played in the United States and because of this fact there are many of you are reading and saying "Hmmmm, Saga, it is just not ringing a bell". For those people, let me bring you up to speed. In the heyday of the Eighties, the band had a resounding success with the songs "On The Loose" and "Wind Him Up", but after those had peaked, they simply fell off peoples radar as they moved on to whatever other band was fashionable at the time. The "Hair Metal" and "Thrash" era was beginning for the Rockers and I admit not being up on my Progressive area of the time, so unless you were a hard core fan you would not have known these guys were still rocking. It was interesting to find that a group as Pop-sensible as they were mixed a number of Progressive elements to their songs. This practice made them a hit among certain circles but despite this, the touring just never seemed to happen for these parts as often as the fan base would like. During these years, the band enjoyed a healthy and productive career in their native Canada. Tonight they would get the chance to remind the people of New York exactly what they were about and be in support of their latest album Trust. The stage would be set once again at the venerated B.B. King Blues Club and under many conditions - this is the perfect setting for this kind of band. Progressive shows have been making a solid mark at the place but tonight would be a different story as attendees and the band would find themselves in a very sparse room. Without sounding too disparaging on the bands draw, I think a number of reasons were the cause of this happening tonight. The past week in New York had been a resounding heat wave and in parts of Queens, there was no power for several days with no apparent end in sight. Given the freedom of the weekend, it seemed like many people fled to cooler and powered spots for relief. I also feel that being absent from the public eye in this region for such a long time was also a key contributor but still I expected the Progressive folks to rally the night of the show. This would sadly not be the case and when the fact of no tables being setup at this show it made the room look all the more roomy. They had been removed in anticipation for the show by DMX (Rap) who was performing later that evening. It seems that the Prog shows are more sit down events than the Metal ones and I think had they left them up the place would have seemed a little fuller.
Despite the lack of a crowd, there was still an energetic presence in the fans who did attend and most of them flocked to the front stage area to get both a better view. There would be a lot of jumping around by the folks down front and many were taking photo after photo as the band played. Clearly, it was apparent that the group had not been totally forgotten and that are some people's favorite band no matter what anyone might think. The group ripped through several classics and mixed in new material from their InsideOut Music release Trust, and I was impressed with how tight they performed and with how heavy they were in a live setting. Michael Sadler really can belt them out and his voice did not seem to have lost any of its luster from the past as he reached passionate high notes throughout the performance. This would be an almost totally original member band finding Sadler along with Jim Crichton (bass), Ian Crichton (guitar), & Jim Gilmour (keyboards, clarinet, harmonica). On drums would be the new member of the group, Brian Doerner (who played with Canada's Helix for many years). Having never seen the band before but knowing some of Doerner's playing made me wonder if they were sounding heavier because of the presence of a Hard Rock drummer in the lineup. Ian Crichton was ripping on the guitar as far as soloing and impressive displays during the songs while his Brother held is down on bass. The keyboard rig used by Jim Gilmour was impressive and was even utilized by Sadler for parts of the show. I have to admit that I am one of those who only knew the bands hits, and only recently got a copy of Trust to do the review on but I am truly glad that I went. It is the kind of show that I feel many people if they paid attention to what was going on that day might have enjoyed as well. Those folks missed out on this one and unless the band gets together with a couple of other Progressive acts, I cannot imagine them being able to fund a tour schedule if this show was any sign of the response.
There was a point that definitely deserves mention and that would be the large group of attendees who made their way all the way from Puerto Rico. They had signs proclaiming it and at one point in the night, singer Michael held one of these signs up and thanked them. Better still, the band did not seem to mind the turnout as those that were there allowed the band to feed off their energy and kick many levels of ass for the 90 minutes that we got from them. Hope to see you guys again soon, so any Festival organizers out there please look into this solid and classic Prog-Rock act, you will be getting your money's worth.
Pete Pardo-In many parts of Canada, and especially in Europe, Saga are still a household name. Sadly, here in the US, that just no longer the case here in 2006, unless of course you take into account the prog-rock fans who have followed this classy band since the early 80's when they first burst onto the scene. Fast forward 25 years, as the band has released the excellent Trust on InsideOut Music, and performed in front of a New York audience for the first time in 22 years. Actually, they are not just singling out New York, as Saga has not ventured below the Canadian border to play here in the US at all in that time span. We caught up with guitarist Ian Crichton before the show, who commented on this fact. "Well, we've remained pretty relevant in Europe, South America, Puerto Rico, and Canada throughout our career, so touring there hasn't been a problem" said Crichton. "Even though we've gone through different styles of music our sound really hasn't changed much over the years, so with all the changes that the US music scene has gone through, it just hasn't been a good fit for us since 1984. We're not a "boy band" after all! So we kept on making records that appealed to audiences that we were still drawing in, but we always kept our eye on a potential US deal, but really didn't come upon one that we liked, until recently with InsideOut". Thankfully, the wait is over, as the band made their way into New York City's BB King Blues Club for an energetic and rocking 90 minute set of Saga classics old and new. What was pretty disappointing was the small turnout of perhaps only 200 fans, none of who though went home less than thrilled by the set list and performance of the band, who played like there were 2000 in attendance. Strong songs from the new album Trust were played, such as "I'm OK", the hard rock fury of "As Far As I'll Go", and the metallic yet progressive title track, but it was the classic material that really got the crowd worked up. Those expecting 'Wind Him Up", "On the Loose", "Humble Stance", "You're Not Alone", and "Don't Be Late", were not disappointed, and the band even threw in some gems like "Flyer" and solid tracks from the recent release Network like "On the Air" and "Keep It Reel".
I asked Ian about Saga's longevity when compared to other Canadian acts like Rush and Triumph, as well as the bands current touring plans, and he had this to say-" Well, Rush are Rush, and Triumph, I don't know what happened to them, they were big for a couple of years, but then a couple of years are a couple of years. Rush is still around, so they are an example of a band that has really made it. Saga has almost had two platinum records here in America, so we did really well here, and played everywhere in the early 80's except for the top left hand corner like Wyoming, Montana, etc. Trust is out, doing well actually, especially in Europe, where it's charted higher than anything we have released in like 16 years. We do 6 weeks of back to back tours, 5, 6 cities in a row, in Europe, and we have a big fan club over there". When asked about the creation of Trust, Ian replied "We did this record different, in that we did most other records in Los Angeles, and on this one we did everything up in Canada. I think taking the band away from the normal routine gave us a new edge on this record".
Lead vocalist Michael Sadler was in fine form on this night, sounding just as strong as ever as his soaring vocals flew over the top of the crunchy and acrobatic guitar work of Ian Crichton and the array of keyboard textures from Jim Gilmour. Jim Crichton provided plenty of bass muscle as well as some keys, and new drummer Brian Doerner fit right in and even added a hot drum solo. While the BB King Club might have been sparse as far as a crowd goes, all who were there had a great time and probably are hoping the band comes back soon to play a longer set. Perhaps InsideOut can arrange a tour with Saga and maybe one or two more acts on the label for a small US tour in hopes of bringing more fans out? Time will tell.
2. As Far As I'll Go
3. Wind Him Up
4. On the Air
5. Keep It Reel
6. Drum Solo
9. I'm OK
11. Careful Where You Step
12. Humble Stance
13. You're Note Alone
14. On The Loose
15. Don't Be Late - encore
Official Web site: http://www.sagaontour.ca