On a night that I am to write about the Armored Saint’s first ever performance in Dublin it certainly doesn’t help my impartiality to quite literally bump into all of the band a small distance outside the venue. For them to then ask advice on where to grab something to eat and chat away in the most friendly manner was surreal to say the least. I’m in the presence of one of my all time favourite bands and desperately trying to maintain some form of dignity while discussing all things Phil Lynott and Gary Moore, I think I just about pulled it off.
To say the audience is sparse for openers Sinocence would be a vast understatement and to be fair to the band they get stuck right in playing a blend of Thrash/Heavy Metal with some damn impressive guitar solos as highlights. Unfortunately the vocals are pretty far down in the mix and even from the front row it’s pretty difficult to hear them properly. Tonight, despite their best efforts, it just doesn’t appear to be working for them and playing to a handful of cold punters can’t be easy either.
Thankfully the venue is now starting to fill up some more and there is a genuine excitement building. This excitement is fully justified when Armored Saint finally appear onstage and rip straight into ‘Win Hands Down’ from their most recent studio album of the same name. It’s immediately apparent that John Bush is in excellent form tonight; three decades fronting bands appear to have left that voice unscathed. He is flanked either side by the duelling guitars of Phil Sandoval and Jeff Duncan while bassist Joey Vera stalks the stage and handles backing vocals perfectly. All the while Gonzo Sandoval is laying down a crushing beat on the drums. This is what I’ve always wanted to experience and the band most certainly aren’t letting any of those present down. Without any hesitation it’s followed immediately by the title track of their debut album ‘March Of The Saint’ which certainly helps keep the audience on its collective toes and singing every lyric back to an appreciative band.
The topic of this being the band’s first visit is broached by John Bush during the introduction to ‘An Exercise In Debauchery’ where he refers to breaking Dublin’s hymen before going on to describe his neighbour getting all sexy in the video for the track. All of this is delivered with humour before they break into the track with Joey and Gonzo really locking the song down leaving both Phil and Jeff plenty of room to riff and solo like their lives depend on it. ‘Control Issues’ follows hard on its heels before one of the more bizarre events of the evening unfolds. In all my years attending gigs I have yet to witness an in-ear monitor break but that’s exactly what happens to John tonight, it’s ever so slightly worrying when you witness the drummer, brandishing a leatherman pliers no less, attempt to remove it from his ear but to no avail. A lesser band might fold but not this band, instead it’s straight into a fantastic one-two of ‘In An Instant’ and ‘Last Train Home.’ Both songs are incredible in their own right but to have them played back to back is nothing short of phenomenal and showcases both John’s incredible voice and the band’s back catalogue.
The venue is really finding it’s voice now and this is fully put to the test with ‘Chemical Euphoria’ and ‘Stricken By Faith’. These tracks allow both Phil and Jeff to put in some really great guitar work. Jeff appears to make it look almost effortless while Phil, being a shrinking violet, pulls out all the lead guitarist poses in the book and then some.
You start to sense that we are coming towards the end of the show as the songs and band barely let us catch our breath. They include one of my personal highlights of the night ‘Left Hook From Right Field’ which really finds the band on form, Joey pummels the bass throughout the song and John offers no let up in his encouragement to the crowd to sing ever louder with him.
Given the small stage in the venue and the “precarious steps” leading off it, the bands words not mine, we aren’t treated to the traditional walk off followed by crowd chanting. Instead the crowd are treated to two of the best tracks to end the show. ‘Can U Deliver’ and the very appropriately titled ‘Madhouse’. I don’t know what it’s like further back in the venue but at the front of the stage it’s bedlam in the best possible way. Suddenly ‘Can U Deliver’ almost seems like an affront to the band because they have proved, in no uncertain terms, that they most definitely can and do. Armored Saint’s Irish debut is a masterclass in heavy metal and a show that will be talked about long into the future.
Win Hands Down
March Of The Saint
An Exercise In Debauchery
In An Instant
Last Train Home
Stricken By Faith
Left Hook From Right Field
Reign Of Fire
Can U Deliver
All Photos by Down The Barrel Photography