Review: Judas Priest at 1STBANK Center, with Black Label Society and Thin Lizzy, 11/5/11

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Somewhere early in the set, Rob Halford told us that the band was going to play material from all roughly forty years of its career including hits and older and more obscure material. And that for the "next two hours and twenty minutes" Priest was going to play heavy metal and we were all going to be a part of it.

Turns out you can be in a band this well-known, this incredibly influential and beloved for this long and not rest on your laurels. Not only that, but last night at the 1STBANK Center, Judas Priest delivered one of the best rock shows going even well into and past its collective middle age. Songs you thought you knew were better, songs you didn't know well, didn't fully appreciate or didn't know at all, you ended up loving.

Thin Lizzy without Phil Lynott was the first massive hurdle this line-up had to clear with me. Phil was the kind of guy you do not, can't replace. Gary Moore, too. This version of Thin Lizzy didn't try to do that. Instead, it apparently just focused on staying a good band with Brian Downey, Scott Gorham and Darren Wharton still holding the torch for the band's legacy. And this band has been active for the last seven years. So no surprise that Thin Lizzy sounded great and had incredible energy. It didn't resemble "a top-notch Thin Lizzy cover band" or the other disparaging characterizations that have undoubtedly plagued the band.

We all knew these songs including hits like the Bob Seger-penned, soul-rock ballad classic "Rosalie," the playful "Cowboy Song," the nowadays more obscure "Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend" and the closer, "The Boys Are Back in Town." But hearing the songs on the radio or records is one thing -- seeing it live this night was like getting a taste of why this music had an impact on anyone to begin with. Everyone on stage clearly loved the material and made it their own, whether they were involved in writing it or not. It didn't seem like some attempt to regain old glory, it was just a solid performance all around.

Between sets, Lady Starlight spun some records and otherwise rocked out to each song because she actually seemed to be into the music. Which made what she was doing seem fun instead of just background noise. Beyond that she played some songs I haven't personally heard in nearly twenty years like "Wheels of Steel" by Saxon and "Neon Knights" by Black Sabbath -- during the latter she brought out a metal shield and a short sword of some kind to wave about in time with the music like some kind of choreographed combat. Most DJs don't do this kind of thing and she did it whenever she was on the tables. Who is Lady Starlight? A Lady Gaga collaborator who designed Gaga's earlier outfits and a well-known rock DJ in New York City. But last night she made the between-band music be good and entertaining for a change. Black Label Society had ten Marshall full stacks behind it, five flanking each side of the drummer. Were they all on? Maybe not, but it made for great rock theater visuals. The band opened with "Crazy Horse" and set the stage for an impressive set of straight ahead hard rock with far better than average musicianship. Wylde was a flashy but not excessive lead player and his vocals had hints of that Layne Staley quiver that so many heavy metal singers attempt but make sound oh so annoying -- except that Wylde didn't go into annoying territory and it just made his singing more expressive than you might expect.

Sure, you could hear a lot of Randy Rhoads-era Ozzy in the music but as an influence and not a rip off and only because few metal guitarists but Wylde could pull off the kind of guitar wizardry one heard in Rhoads. That and Wylde is just more charismatic than many of his peers and fully places him into the music and its performance. He expects the same from his bandmates, who didn't disappoint. Wylde's trebly open harmonics leading into or otherwise lending texture to so many songs just made everything seem like it wasn't fully under anyone's control which is a good sign a band can still surprise you.

Toward the end of the set, the band except for Wylde, left the stage and he performed a virtuosic solo that was incredible for the first two or three minutes and then seemed to drag on forever, but there are probably many in the audience who enjoyed it. In either case, the band came back in and Black Label Society closed strong. While clearly many people wanted an encore, and the band might have wanted to do one, its members walked off the stage after some genuine thanks to an appreciative audience.

It would be a shame if this was the final Judas Priest tour to a wide audience because from beginning to end it was so fiery and passionate. You see enough rock shows and can tell when a band is going through the motions, but not once did these guys seem to be -- pretty good for doing something so well for so long.

Opening with "Rapid Fire," Priest got off the ground quickly. Richie Faulkner seemed fully-integrated into the performance of every song and his leads, once played by K.K. Downing, were flawless and his chemistry with Glen Tipton left no doubt that if anyone could fill Downing's shoes, it's Faulkner.

Halford wasn't kidding about playing music across the band's entire career and not always what you'd expect. But even with a song like "Starbreaker," it was like getting to hear another side of a band you've heard all your life and rediscovering what was great about that band to begin with, because everyone on stage breathed vitality into the material. Priest always has done this but might have been excused for just putting in another tour for the fans (but in reality kind of being ready to be hang it up.) But a band doing that doesn't tour for months on end for that tour and put in a performance as remarkable as this show every night -- and you know they probably did.

"Victim of Changes" provided a way for Richie to prove his mettle (no pun intended) with some fiery, yet tasteful soloing almost as a continuation of an elaborations upon Tipton's lead earlier in the song--a dynamic part of the studio song but extended and more organic. For the Joan Baez cover, "Diamonds & Rust," the whole band proved it wasn't just a heavy metal machine with even Halford toning down the vocal pyrotechnics until halfway or so through the song when it kicked into higher gear.

"Turbo Lover," it could be argued, is one of the band's sillier songs, but this time out it seemed like a reworking and as with other songs in the set, Halford traded phrases from the song with the crowd who always sang along with what Halford informally commanded from the stage. And people sure knew the words, and the singing wasn't half-bad.

Review continues on next page with more photos and the Judas Priest set list. At the midpoint of the evening, Halford talked about how in Birmingham in the early '70s, in the early days of heavy metal, it was Priest and Black Sabbath commenting, "Pretty good start, man, pretty good start." And that every generation has its own version of heavy metal to embrace like death metal, thrash, black metal and whatever else but that it was all heavy metal and that the guys in Priest loved and embraced it all too as part of the same movement, part of the same form of music. Then the group began the elegant and gritty strains of "Beyond the Realms of Death." This was followed up by a driving take on "The Sentinel."

After making "Blood Red Skies" seem like a good song again with the sheer conviction of the performance and a better-than-the-original cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)," an image of British Steel appeared on the screen behind the band. Even with the geysers of fog bursting forth and sheets of fire punctuating so much of the music, the mere appearance of the iconic cover art elicited a cheer from much of the crowd.

Halford told us that British Steel was recorded in 1980 in a house John Lennon had lived in and that 1980 was a good year for metal with releases from Iron Maiden, Saxon, Scorpions and Whitesnake. But then the band went into "Breaking The Law" and that proud history faded into the background. It's the kind of song you know even if you're not into the band because it's such a part of the musical backdrop of anyone who has more than a very sanitized experience with rock music.

With "Painkiller" it just seemed so striking and that so many people since have tried to emulate Halford's signature vocals and almost always failing miserably and sounding absurd. But Halford always seems to make it work without seeming excessive and cartoonish. Before "Hell Bent For Leather," of course Halford came out on stage with his leather hat, spikes and leather, leather jacket on a motorcycle. The set proper closed with a rousing rendition of "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" and with Halford soliciting singing from the crowd, which obliged brilliantly. Scott Travis and Ian Hill hit some great low end tones, creating a colossal sound matched only by Halford's monumental screaming after a couple of measures of those beats.

That would have been the end but Scott told us that he would help us get the band back on stage and he counted down from three to get everyone to cheer and make some noise and of course the place burst forth with applause and cries of appreciation and for the band to come back. And indeed, everyone else rejoined Scott for a fun version of, what else, "Living After Midnight." Halford's comments at the end of the show and the experience of playing here tonight? "Beautiful, awesome, amazing."


JUDAS PRIEST 1STBANK Center - 11/5/11 Broomfield, Colorado

01. Rapid Fire 02. Metal Gods 03. Heading Out to the Highway 04. Judas Rising 05. Starbreaker 06. Victim of Changes 07. Never Satisfied 08. Diamonds & Rust 09. Prophecy 10. Night Crawler 11. Turbo Lover 12. Beyond the Realms of Death 13. The Sentinel 14. Blood Red Skies 15. The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown) 16. Breaking the Law 17. Painkiller 18. Electric Eye 19. Hell Bent For Leather 20. You've Got Another Thing Comin' 21. Living After Midnight (as an encore)


Personal Bias: I was never a Judas Priest fan being a bit of a metalhead in the late '80s. But when I started to hear them in comparison to so much '70s rock and then read books talking about them, I had to revisit the band's material and found it not lacking at all. Random Detail: Ran into rock and roll cinematographer and archivist Aaron Saye at the show. By the Way: This crowd didn't seem rude or annoying. A nice change from so many big shows I ever go to these days. It was a pleasant surprise. But this crowd is the kind that is there because they love Priest or with someone who does. Period.

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