At several moments of his career, John Bush would have been forgiven for becoming a tad jaded and bitter. Armored Saint was ripe for crossover appeal, but they never gained as much success as they likely deserved. Bush would make it to the big time when joining Anthrax, but after the brilliance of Sound of White Noise, that band’s creative output became uneven at best and hugely forgettable at worst. Exposure up, art frustratingly down. Then there was the debacle with how Anthrax solved the release of Bush for some kid no one remembers before they eventually brought Joey Belladonna back into the fold.
Through it all, he has maintained his composure and class, having as much passion now in his baldheaded 50s as he did in his rag-topped 20s. But even this is understating what the man brought on the night of September 19, 2015 in Dayton, Ohio while the Saint opened up for NWOBHM greats Saxon.
Quite simply, the man brought soul. All of the soul. More soul than can possibly be brought by anyone you or I or Cousin Teresa knows. Soul, and rock, and a fervor that most young bands can’t even begin to understand.
That he still has this fire after 30-plus on-and-off years with Armored Saint and the rigmarole with Anthrax isn’t just amazing, it’s largely unheard of. For him to taste the arenas in the 90s with ‘Thrax and still bring this fire at a strip mall venue in a less-than-hot tour stop shows more than professionalism; it shows an unrivaled passion. No matter the venue, no matter the city, and no matter how big and enthusiastic the crowd, all John Bush needs is a microphone, Gonzo and Phil Sandoval, Joey Vera, and Jeff Duncan.
And oh yeah, those boys were blazin’ with the same energy, as if this late career resurgence – which includes a solid new album in Win Hands Down – is all they ever wanted in life. They ripped through a set featuring several classics and a few new tunes, with highlights including “March of the Saint,” “Raising Fear,” and “An Exercise in Debauchery.” But the big winner was “Reign of Fire,” which Bush performed from the top of a speaker cabinet like a lord watching over his minions. A dominant performance within a dominant performance, and the crowd ate it up. We were helpless in the presence of these giants.
And oh yeah, Saxon killed too, of course, their set also loaded with classics largely from the period up through Crusader. But Saxon I had seen before, albeit only months earlier with Judas Priest, and had long known exactly my feeling on the British greats. My feelings about Armored Saint were never as clear. I’ve owned Symbol of Salvation for ages and have always enjoyed it, but I have never had more than a passing acquaintance with their earlier material.
This show was more than a conversion, then, it was a revelation, and John Bush was the catalyst of my eye-opening. I knew of the man’s mastery from seeing him with Anthrax years ago, and have always been a huge fan of his vocal talents (again, soul). But there was something else going on this night, or maybe this tour, or this era of Armored Saint. Whatever it is, Bush – and his bandmates – have a great, undefinable je ne sais quoi about them, more than three decades since they first got together as a band.
That night, I walked into the venue a great Armored Saint appreciator. I walked out a super fan. That these types of experiences can still happen to me after all these years? Refreshing. That it happened with good buds (former MR/LR team member Matt M. and our own “Andrew Edmunds”) that have been hounding me to get more into Saint for ages? A total blast. A bit of my faith in mankind was restored on that one night in Dayton by a band of veteran playing for nothing but their love of music.
That’s one heck of a way to spend a Saturday night, folks. Long live rock and roll.