Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Live Review: Saga at Arcada Theatre

| October 20, 2019


Arcada Theatre, St. Charles, IL

October 16, 2019

Review and photos by Jeff Elbel

Wednesday night’s concert at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles was impressive on multiple counts. Credit goes to promoter Ron Onesti for listening to patrons and taking the risk to book Saga’s first standalone US show in ages. Although the quintet plays to capacity crowds in Germany and its native Canada, Saga hasn’t been to the Chicago area since a 1985 headlining gig at the Metro in Wrigleyville. The Arcada was not packed, but audience reaction was intense. Fans in the know traveled from California, Texas, and other regions to join local fans for the rare chance to see their progressive rock heroes deliver a stunning show. The set went well beyond rock radio staples “On the Loose” and “Wind Him Up.” The crowd was on its feet instantly, and stayed up for the entire show.

“Hello, Chicago, it’s been a while,” said loose-limbed frontman Michael Sadler. “We’ve got this much time [small gesture] to play this many songs [big gesture], so I’m not going to stand here yapping.” The band then charged through “Framed” from gold-selling 1981 album Worlds Apart.

The generous two-hour set represent eight of Saga’s 21 albums, including significant but deeper cuts like “Learning Tree” from Generation 13. “Someone always leaves saying, ‘You didn’t play my favorite song,’” said Sadler. “We’ll have to play it,” he added, pausing for dramatic effect, “… next time.” The suggestion of a future visit sent fans into hysterics, as Sadler thanked the audience for 43 years of support.

Drummer Mike Thorne hit so hard during “Will it Be You?” that his fills launched him from his seat. Veteran keyboardist Jim Gilmour and Sadler stood on risers nearby playing intertwining synthesizer lines while founding guitarist Ian Crichton unleashed fretboard-splintering staccato riffs and fluid solos.

As Sadler took a brief break, Gilmour said, “We’re gonna play something a little different for you right now.” The remaining quartet lunged into the furious instrumental “Corkentellis” with a flurry of frenetic and finger-twisting unison riffs between Crichton and Gilmour, followed by a stick-cracking solo from Thorne.

Thorne’s hi-hat cadence fooled many into thinking that fan favorite “Don’t Be Late” was making a mid-set appearance, but with a wink, Sadler began the bracing “On the Air.” Afterward, Sadler introduced Thorne as “the old new guy” before highlighting bassist Dusty Chesterfield as “the new new guy.”

The band went “way, way back” to its 1978 self-titled debut album for “Ice Nice,” featuring vocals by Gilmour in harmony with Sadler’s exceptionally well-preserved pipes. Fans sang along to the refrain, “How long have you been listening?” For some, the answer was more than 40 years.

“We’ll go from the very, very old to the relatively new,” said Sadler afterward. “Have we played your favorite song yet? We have our own favorites.” The band then performed “Go With the Flow” from worthy 2014 studio album Sagacity.

Chesterfield moved to the synthesizer station while Sadler picked up the bass for vintage cut “Humble Stance.” The band played the evocative song’s ending with a deft fade-out. Afterward, Sadler interacted with an emotional fan, giving him the microphone to describe his experience seeing Saga open for Pat Benatar at the Rosemont Horizon in 1982. The fan began to apologize for his nervous excitement, but Sadler stopped him. “Never apologize for your enthusiasm,” said the singer. “That’s why we’re here.”

Gilmour sang lead vocal for “Scratching the Surface” before Sadler returned to deliver a theatrical performance of “The Pitchman” from Heads or Tails. The singer’s presence throughout the evening was riveting, keeping all eyes fixed on an assured performance comparable to Sadler’s own heroes including Peter Gabriel and Freddie Mercury. Sadler’s stagecraft was revelatory to those who had only known Saga by its recorded music for so many years.

The main set concluded with peak audience participation during “Don’t Be Late.” The song returned the set to 1980’s Silent Knight album where it had begun with “Careful Where You Step.” The band soon reappeared for a dazzling encore of “Wind Him Up.”

“Thank you very much,” said Sadler as the band took its bows. “We’ll be back, I promise.” As long as it doesn’t take another 34 years, Saga and the Arcada should expect a full house based upon the word of mouth following such a thrilling evening.

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Category: Live Reviews

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