I kind of think a lot of people in my position wouldn’t have even made the trip to see Judas Priest for the opening night of their 2018 World Tour on Tuesday. The guy who was supposed to go with me found out less than a week ago that he was going to have to work. Then, after scrambling to get someone else to go on short notice, I came up empty. Did I consider not going? Not really. It was in my mind as an option, but, as much as I didn’t like the idea of making the nearly three hour trip up—and the return trip back after the show—I liked the thought of not going even less.
Besides, it wasn’t as if I was the only one going; I was just going to be the only one going in my car. In all there were going to be about seven of us–the others, all drinkers, had hotel rooms for the night, and that just wasn’t something I cared to get involved in.–and one of them was our friend Don Blankenship, who was celebrating his 49th birthday.
Giving my final friends as long as possible to work it out to join me, I ended up hitting the road at 4:30 for the show, which was scheduled to start at 7.
That had me running a little late, but there were two opening bands—Dark Star Riders, whom I’d never heard of, and Saxon—that I didn’t much care to see. Nothing against Saxon, I knew I would enjoy their set, but my intentions had nothing to do with anything but the headliners.
Screaming for Vengeance, the bands’s 1982 album, was one of the most important album of my teenage years, and I always look forward to seeing the men who so shaped my life play their music live. (My review of Screaming)
I was really jazzed about seeing a band that defines what heavy metal music is for me, and hey didn’t do anything once they hit that stage that proved disappointing.
Taking the stage at shortly before 9:30, the crowd got even more primed than it already was, with a recorded version of Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” which everyone sang in unison and which was followed by the soft and majestic piece titled “Guardians,” from the new album, Firepower. Those turned out to be the final dulcet tones of the night.
From then it was on. Beginning with Firepower‘s title track and ending 100 minutes and 19 songs later, the metal gods did what they’re expected to do and even higher than those expectations could be.
Visiting eleven of their 18 studio albums, the heavy focus was on the band’s two most successful albums, 1980’s British Steel and ’82’s Screaming, as well as the new album. Aside from the omission of “Heading out to the Highway,” the band played just about everything one might have expected.
New tracks, the title track plus “Lightning Strikes” and “Evil Never Dies” worked seamlessly with classic die hard fan favorites, such as “The Ripper,” “Grinder” and “The Sinner” and anthems like “Hell Bent for Leather” and “Metal Gods.”
Along the way you had a notable live premier, as Stained Class‘s “Saints in Hell” was played live for the first time ever, some 40 years after it was released, and plenty of my favorites that I had hoped they would play. Steel‘s “Living After Midnight” was as good as I could have expected, and Screaming, that favorite of mine was represented by “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” as well as “Electric Eye” and the first performance of “Bloodstone” in 27 years.
Still, my two personal highlights came from the only songs that were played from two other albums, 1984’s Defenders of the Faith and 1990’s Painkiller.
The track form Defenders, “Some Heads are Gonna Roll,” just might be my favorite JP song of all, and I’m pleased they chose that night to play it for the first time since 1991.
Painkiller‘s title track has never been one of my favorites, but the way they chose to do it really made it special. “Painkiller” was the track that the band paid tribute to guitarist Glenn Tipton. Tipton, whose tenure with the band goes back to ’71–bassist Ian Hill is the only founding member of the band, which is going on 49 years old–recently had to step aside, from touring at least, due to the onset of Parkinson’s Disease. The band played tribute to Glenn by not only featuring him on the screens during the song, but parts of the footage were of him playing the song in real time, so it synced up with the night’s performance. It was quite moving, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a bit misty.
So, no, this wasn’t your uncle’s Judas Priest. Hill and Halford were the only two members from that classic lineup that gave us the stellar albums of the 80s, but it didn’t matter. The song says “when there’s magic in the music, it’s the singer not the song.” There might have been a time in my life when I believed that, but I’ve gotten to the point where, while the performers are certainly not arbitrary, the songs are what matters.
That’s a bold statement to make I think, especially when the singer of the night happens to be Rob Halford.
And what can you say about that dude? As much as a night like that is about the songs, it’s hard to imagine what so many of these songs would sound like without Mr. Halford doing the vocal honors. And what honors they are; I stated on my Facebook feed that if concert singing were an Olympic event, Halford would take the Gold, and I stand by that. I can’t begin to imagine how many nights of live music I’ve watched in my life, and I can’t recall a singer who could handle such great degree of difficulty with such deft execution. And what power. This dude is 65, and he’s hitting every shriek, scream, and growl stronger than he did 30 years ago. And he’s not shying from the high notes or altering registers and octaves to make the music more accessible. Not this cat; he hit ’em all head first and with full steam. Talent and aural pleasure aside, his performance was literally awe-inspiring.
And it all came together to form the thing that was the reason I knew I wouldn’t really consider not making the trip, that the band was just going to straight up rock my face. They did that, indeed, and me and ol’ birthday boy Donny B didn’t waste a spec of it.
Here’s a video of that night’s performance of “Some Heads are Gonna Roll.”