Tell it to the Priest

I happened to see the Judas Priest concert in Virginia the other day, and then also happened to see The Washington Post‘s review of the same show. For whatever reason (limited space for text?) the writer didn’t include several highlights which I would consider notable in effectively conveying the experience.

The article neglected to mention that, although vocalist Rob Halford shows his age in his physical movements (to the extent that I’m kinda worried he might have health problems), he can still sing as well as he ever did. I mean, sure they didn’t do anything off of Rock-A-Rolla or Sin After Sin, albums that pretty much invented the metal vocal standard of perpetual falsetto howling, but he can still sing frighteningly high-pitched, determined screams. He proved once again that he is the best rock/metal singer of all time. The guy is pushing 60 and still out-sings everyone else 30 or 40 years younger than him. Even other notable metal singers like Dio, Ozzy, Bruce Dickinson — they simply can’t touch Halford.

Because Halford’s range is in a whole other spectrum. When he hits his falsetto screech, it is totally powerful — a full-force blast of energy. And though the singing crowd couldn’t hit those high notes with the metal icon, they knew the words to every song. We’re talkin’ second/third verse-singing fans here, folks! Those words they don’t even print on the album anymore…I had them shouted in my ears all night! The people around me were singing louder than the Nissan Pavilion’s PA, and these weren’t even remotely luxury seats! I imagine the people willing to fork over the dough for luxury or box seats must have been chanting the lyrics to “Metal Gods” as if in a shamanic trance, their dedication to the music so profound.

I thought the setlist was pretty good — after 30+ years in the game, they know what fans want to hear and only played two songs off their most recent albums. The opener was a song off of the newest album, Nostradamus, featuring a crucial costume setup by Halford. Actually, Halford changed costumes several times throughout, almost as many times as they changed the stage backdrop. He also put up a couple of sweet flags on either side of the elevated drum platform making the stage an authentic Judas Priest base. The stage-base was pretty cool looking, though it wasn’t quite as menacing as the stage setup of Heaven & Hell, the Ronnie James Dio-fronted incarnation of Black Sabbath who played right before Priest.

Dio‘s stage banter was actually pretty charming and entertaining (whether intentionally amusing I don’t know). He kept talking about how good the next song was before they played it, and then afterward he would say that if we liked that song we’d love the (25 year-old) album, ‘coz every song on it was just as good. His dancing (or was it grooving?) was also pretty legit too. An amusing guy, though his setlist sounded a little phoned-in. But they’re a little older and Black Sabbath was never quite as musically dynamic or flexible as Judas Priest in the first place.

The majority of Judas Priest’s set was taken from early ’80s albums like British Steel, Screaming For Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith, as well as three or so tracks from the classic ’90s masterpiece, Painkiller and then a few songs scattered from other albums. I was particularly pleased and fond of their rendition of “Green Mahalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)” but it’s a little sad that at this point in their career the guys don’t want to play stuff from their first three albums, nor that pinnacle of ’80s pop-metal, Turbo. I thought they should’ve played their famous Joan Baez cover, “Diamonds and Rust” to assuage this whole neglected period (they covered the song on both their first and third albums).

Judas Priest is old, but it was still one of the better concerts I’ve seen in a while. I’d forgotten that there was a time when stadium shows were actually good. Sure, if you’re crazy you can pay like $100 for seats up close to the band, but you can also pay like $25 for lawn tickets and see four famous metal bands (the Metal Masters tour features Testament, Motorhead, Heaven and Hell and Judas Priest).

In fact, the high quality of the show was what made me feel kind of melancholic on the ride back home (during which my friend immediately tried to play Judas Priest on the stereo). I realize that with Judas Priest and their (very few) musical peers disappearing into retirement pretty soon, this is the end of an era. For metal as well as other genres too, not to mention other areas of culture, a generation of entertainment and art is changing hands.

Alas, the only true indication of Judas Priest’s age in my mind was the fairly short show length. It was still a good slot of time, probably an hour and twenty minutes or so, but I hoped for at least another five or six songs. Still certainly worth the money, but it made me kinda sad. The melancholy of aging betrayed itself in the guise of a shortened set, leaving Virginia’s metal maniacs just shy of a complete dose of the true metal gods.

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~ by chaosrexmachinae on August 11, 2008.

One Response to “Tell it to the Priest”

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