On the Loose in New York City with Saga!

By David Iozzia
Photos by Dave Iozzia and Tony Santiago

Saga, the Canadian progressive rock band, made a triumphant return to New York City this summer. It was a return that Saga’s fans from the northeastern United States have waited 22 years for. The B.B. King’s Blues Club, with its intimate setting and tremendous acoustics, hosted the concert and made Saga’s rabid fans feel right at home. The venue is located on 42nd Street in Times Square, just a few blocks from the United Nations complex, and the concert had an international flair. I only traveled from New Jersey, but I met fans that came all of the way from California, Canada, Puerto Rico, Chile, and Finland. With a World Cup-ful of rock and roll fans in attendance, Saga didn’t disappoint, leaving everybody standing and screaming for more.

Lead vocalist Michael Sadler, lead guitarist Ian Crichton, bass guitarist Jim Crichton, keyboard player Jim “Daryl” Gilmour, and their new drummer Brian Doerner hit the stage blazing, and they fired from both barrels all night long. Saga showcased their musicianship and versatility with Michael and Jim adding keyboards to select songs.

Saga’s rocking set opened with the title track from their current record “Trust.” They concentrated on that record, 2004’s “Network” which preceded it, and all of the hits from their mid-80’s MTV era. It’s very challenging for a band with a song catalog that spans 29 years, they can’t play everything. I’m sure the die-hard Saga fans wanted some of the more obscure 90’s material included, but I thought the set list effectively covered their career.

Although it was great to hear “Don’t Be Late,” “On The Loose,” and “Wind Him Up” being played live again, the highlights of the show in my opinion were some of the newer songs that I wasn’t familiar with: “On The Air,” “Keep It Reel,” and “Trust.”

After the show, I had a chance to sit down for a few minutes with singer Michael Sadler to talk about Saga’s return to New York City, the band’s future plans, and his solo record “Clear.”

B.B. King’s is my favorite venue in which to attend a concert in New York City. When I asked him about the band’s first appearance there, Michael told me that “the venue and their organization is great. I like intimate settings where you can see and feel the crowd. For me, it’s all about the contact and the personal touch.”

The crowd at B.B. King’s was really into the show, yet I expected more people to attend since Saga’s U.S. appearances have been few and far between. Michael disagreed, stating “22 years is a long time and people forget. When you stay out of a market for so long, you can’t have expectations. The fan reaction was absolutely amazing. If it had been a moderate reaction, I still would have been happy.”

I had to ask Michael the obvious questions: Why did you wait 22 years to return to New York City? Will Saga be touring North America later this year? “There’s been a lot of explanations,” said Michael, “and a lot of different excuses. But ultimately, it falls back on us. We have the final say so Saga has to shoulder 90 percent of the blame. We almost passed the point of no return but we wanted to re-establish ourselves with American audiences, letting them know that we’re still here and that we’re playing better than we have in a long time.” As far as Saga’s future touring plans, Michael noted, “We’re working on plans for a tour now. This show came up really quick, but with the release of ‘Trust,’ the timing was right and it was too important to miss a chance to play a gig in New York City.”

I wished Michael and the band a “Happy Birthday” because Saga recently turned 29 years old. Maybe 2007 will be a big touring year for the band as they celebrate their 30th anniversary. After reminding him that Saga had titled a greatest hits package “Defining Moments,” I asked Michael if his band has had their defining moment yet. “That moment is still to come,” he replied, “and I don’t know if it’ll be live or in the studio. Once I’m near the end of completing a record, I can’t wait to get out there on the road and entertain again. Being away from home sucks, but those two hours every night up on stage when we’re touring is what it’s all about.”

I was thankful that Michael took the time to chat following Saga’s concert, but before I let him go I had to ask him about his latest solo record, “Clear.” The record has a “Saga-feel” about it, since Michael is one of the band’s principal songwriters, but at points it has a world-music sound. He described it as “ a less-intricate, more accessible Peter Gabriel sound, with a lot of vocals.” Regardless of how one describes the musical direction, “Clear” and its lyrics send out a very important message. The title track was the last song written, following Michael’s stint in a rehab for alcohol abuse, sharing his strength and his hope for a sober future. Yet, the other eleven songs haunted me at times. The song titles and his lyrics made me think that he was struggling and reaching out for help. “I wouldn’t say it’s autobiographical,” said Michael. “After the record was complete, I was reading and typing the lyrics for the liner notes. I could appreciate what I had written, but there’s some songs in there that made me think whoever had written them was a little troubled. Now I know why.” If Michael’s message with “Clear” was subliminal, I asked him what his verbal message would be today. He answered, “Be strong and decide what you want. If you want to stay alive and enjoy life while you’re here, surrender and get professional help. If you’re using any substance or any behavior to excess, the addiction is not the problem. It’s a symptom of something else going on in your life that is troubling you.”

Michael’s very proud of his record and the message it sends, and he should be. He joked, “If it wasn’t me, I’d buy it. It was a very important record for me and I’ve satisfied something.” As I walked away, I wondered if great songwriters can ignore or escape their state of mind to write about abstract themes or characters; or whether their lyrics will always have a direct relationship to the headspace they’re in when they’re writing.

Saga’s sounding as good as ever and this magical night in New York City proved it. Maybe the band’s defining moment is yet to come as Michael alluded? Maybe there’s a new chapter to Saga’s history that has yet to be written? Michael left the door open, offering hope for a “Chapters-Live” concert for U.S. audiences. I’m going to savor the moment of Saga’s first New York City concert in 22 years, enjoy 29 years worth of records, and look forward to the band’s 30th anniversary.

The “Saga” continues!

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