JUDAS PRIEST, STEEL PANTHER - Hard Rock Live, Hollywood, FL
We've all heard the same rationalization about how Heavy Metal spans far beyond numbers. It isn't about age but about attitude. It wasn't hard to see this theory in full-effect at the Hard Rock Live arena in Hollywood when Priest rolled into town. Lots of old metal t-shirts, ripped jeans, and girls in leather. Of course, not so much being worn by folks in the same physical shape they were in back in the early 80's when lead vocalist Rob Halford's operatic-meets-steel vocal style and the twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing captured their greatest success with British Steel and Screaming For Vengeance. The crowd, of mostly 40-somethings, were there to relive the finer moments of youth despite the fact that the weight they put on over the years didn't compliment that short skirt quite the way it used to.
None-the-less, the show brought together the unique combination of die-hard fans and hard-rockin' partiers that metal seems to inspire so easily. The metal crowd is always an interesting one to watch. I saw Priest for the first time in the mid-80s, oddly enough, at the decrepit and dank Hollywood Sportatorium. I moved away from FL not long after and have been gone for over 25 years, but here I was again - front and center in Hollywood to see if Priest still had the goods. I knew the odds were in my favor as their latest release, Redeemer of Souls (read Sarjoo's fine review of the album on this site if you haven't already), is one of their strongest in many years. The band was introduced by Eddie Trunk (of That Metal Show) and, in quick business, he reminded the gathered what we all already knew. Judas Priest are heavy metal legends. One of the true foundations in a musical genre that grows, morphs, and reinvents itself more successfully than any other.
As the band took the stage, Priest's place in the hallowed halls of metal where further reminded as the PA blared out Sabbath's ominous "War Pigs." Soon enough the band was ripping through the excellent new track "Dragonaut" and all seemed well in the world. The Hard Rock Live, nestled in the Hard Rock Casino compound, isn't far removed from the Sportatorium. More sports arena than concert hall, the cavernous set-up doesn't always lend itself to good sound. However, the thunder that Priest brought was well balanced and showed nice textures in the roar. The band, including original members Halford, Tipton, and bassist Ian Hill (all in their early 60's), drummer Scott Travis and lead guitarist Richie Faulkner, clearly meant business and, right from the top of the show, held a commanding presence. Though the band was in fine form, two elements held up especially well. The first isn't so surprising - it was the energy brought to the stage by Faulkner. Nearly half the age of the senior members, Faulkner was engaged on a higher level and his solos and stage presence brought an enjoyable addition to the evening. The second element was a bit more surprising - Halford's vocals. You have to hand it to the man. He had obviously been working his vocals like a prize-fighter because they were rock solid. The shrill high notes were all there, even if wrapped in a little extra echo, and his king of the hill swagger was a joy to behold.
The setlist didn't have many surprises and, at about only 90 minutes long, was lean and well-trimmed. The hits were there in all their sing-a-long glory and the crowd ate them up. The new cd was well represented with four of it's finest tracks and the band dipped back to their second release, Sad Wings of Destiny's "Victim of Changes." Faulkner took a short solo towards the end of the set and Halford led a brief call and response before the last number, the classic "Living After Midnight", but no other fireworks, other than the march and roll of great songs played by a classic, tight band. The stage design helped to spice things up as multiple video screens accented songs with images of demons, fire, and the usual metal trappings. And, of course, Halford's Harley made an appearance as the band ripped into "Hell Bent For Leather."
The show's opening spot belonged to Steel Panther. The band, as it has on their CDs, blurs the line between rock n' roll saviors and comedy troupe. Their between song riffs got as much attention and response from the audience as their strongest numbers. I still claim that they work best on video and YouTube but they are clearly fine musicians (following their start as a Van Halen tribute band) and served as a great warm-up for the more serious tones Priest brought to the stage.
Worn age or not, it was great to see a band like Priest still doing their thing. As Halford reminded the crowd over the closing repeated anthem "Defenders of the Faith" - "We are defenders of heavy metal!" The band, and their fans, seemed up to the task.
Concert coverage and Photos courtesy of Robert Allen Ankrom