The crowd at Gila River Arena in Glendale began to cheer before Judas Priest even took the stage. Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" played overhead and the audience, tuned into a frequency only they could hear, knew that one of the most prominent and distinguished metal band of the last 40 years was about to take the stage. The sound of thunder crashing down was heard as streaks of lightning showered down behind the curtain bearing the band's logo. The drapery dropped like a stone to reveal Rob Halford and company. Blood, fire, and destruction rained down on the screen behind them as they launched into "Dragonaut," the opening track of their latest release Redeemer of Souls.
Halford's operatic voice was as powerful and sturdy as the warrior Hercules, metaphorically shattering glass and bringing down down the "Metal Gods" he was singing about. Dressed in his trademark leather, chains, and sunglasses, the Phoenix resident declared in an English accent that "the Priest is back!" He then launched into the song "Devil's Child," accentuating the end of every line with a sharp wail that pierced the eardrums of everyone in the house.
It seems unusual to compare the 63-year-old goateed singer to crooner Tony Bennett, but both are icons in their respective genres. Their strong dramatic voices got them where they are today and both have kept their instruments in remarkably great shape. To further the point, Halford knows when to sit back and let the supporting players take the lead, much like Bennett does when he performs. Guitarists Richie Faulkner and Glenn Tipton moved to the front of the stage and wailed as long as they needed to on their soaring solos. They went so long on "Victim of Changes" that you could have taken a bathroom break, grabbed a beer, and come back to your seat and not miss anything but guitar solos.
Halford gave the audience a strong endorsement to the title track of the band's latest release, declaring how much he loves "Redeemer of Souls." He's supposed to be proud of his work because he helped write the song. Yet, it's inclusion to the set list didn't feel out of place with the any of the other songs the band played from their vast catalog. The album is obviously a return to form, from the comic book-influenced cover art, its supernatural story-telling, and crazy metal riffs. It's hard for any band to be confident on stage or on a recording when your founding guitarist retires from the group, but the quintet victoriously stepped up to the plate without the talented K.K. Downing and without saying a word announced they aren't going anywhere for a long time.
Other artists who have been in the game as long as Judas Priest love to flaunt how much they've influenced pop culture, but the group is a little more subtle about it. When you hear songs like "March of the Damned" and "Love Bites," both of which are influenced by scary stories and horror films, and see the cover art for Sad Wings of Destiny, you're aware the band is taking a page from the worlds of fantasy and mythology. Four decades later, those who had their faces melted listening to British Steel on their headphones so their parents couldn't disapprove have created art influenced by Judas Priest. Everything from Sons of Anarchy to The Walking Dead and even Beavis and Butt-head owe a little something to the work of the British group. The macabre and post-apocalyptic subjects Halford sang about years ago has now become mainstream. They triumphantly no longer reside on the fringe.
The last 30 minutes of the show were dedicated to the big hits. After "Breaking The Law," Halford rode out in a Harley for "Hellbent For Leather," "You've Got Another Thing Comin,'" and "Living After Midnight." All five members of the band bowed for the audience, knowing in their hearts they gave Valley of the Sun fans a show to remember, even if the ringing in their ears didn't let them forget.
Visit the next page for set list and Critic's Notebook.
Set list (Via setlist.fm)
Dragonaut Metal Gods Devil's Child Victim of Changes Halls of Valhalla Love Bites March of the Damned Turbo Lover Redeemer of Souls Beyond the Realms of Death Jawbreaker Breaking the Law Hell Bent for Leather
Encore: You've Got Another Thing Comin' Living After Midnight Defenders of the Faith
Last Night: Judas Priest with Steel Panther at Gila River Arena
The Crowd: Middle-aged men with their stiletto-heeled wives or girlfriends who stepped on my foot. The true fans were head banging on the floor while the crowd became sparser the higher up you went.
Random Notebook Dump: "David St. Hubbins clumsily declared 'It's a fine line between stupid and clever.' Steel Panther crosses the line. They're an X-rated Spinal Tap for the Poison set. They came to rock 'n' roll and they certainly cannot be faulted for that. They knowingly played to the stereotypes that came with the coke fueled excess of the glam metal scene of the '80s, having fun with the crowd, and trying to steal the girlfriends in the audience."
Condescending Judgment: I wanted more smoke and actual fireworks, but seeing it on an HD screen will do I guess.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.