Judas Priest at Arizona State Fair, 10/21/11

Judas Priest Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fair Friday, October 21, 2010

Let's get it out of the way straight off the bat: I've never been big Judas Priest fan. I don't dislike the band, mind you, but I've never really delved in beyond the hits. (I think I have a copy of Turbo Lover hiding out somewhere.)

I went into last night's Veterans Memorial Coliseum with only a few goals: I wanted to hear Rob Halford scream like a banshee (those Christmas records left me in doubt of his cred); I wanted to hear Glen Tipton and Richie Faulkner (K.K. Downings' replacement) shred the duel/dual guitar thing; and I wanted to people-watch the gathered rockers, heshers, random teens, and bewildered folks who stumbled into the crowd from the deep fried grounds outside.

It turned out to be a good night for all of that.

Shows at the State Fair are great because of the endless diversity in the audience. You never know exactly who is going to find their way into the dome. Teenagers creeping to the back to smoke cigarettes without getting hassled? Check. Old school rockers who violently headbang sitting down? Yup. A woman smoking a cigarette while shaking an infant in time with the music? Holy Christ.

The whole thing was a thoroughly classic affair. Vintage laser effects zoomed through thick clouds of pot smoke, while the band on stage sounded like they were stuck in 1980. This is a good thing.

"Let's hear it Phoenix, Arizona," Halford shouted, beckoning his adopted-hometown crowd to turn it up.

Halford listed off all the variations of metal that have emerged since the band's formed in Birmingham, England in 1969. "Death metal, speed metal, black metal," Halford said. "It's all heavy metal, and it's all great." But Priest plays classic metal -- with surprising gusto. On "Judas Rising," Halford showed off those signature wails, using some touches of echo and delay from the soundboard to increase the quality of his screeching. How the hell can he still sound like that?

Halford switched up costumes a few times -- kind of an odd move for a heavy rock 'n' roller -- but it didn't really distract from the bands pyrotechnics (both actual and musically). Guitarists Tipton and Faulkner were both in fine form, executing the ballady intro of "Beyond the Realms of Death" and the full-on force of "Starbreaker."

Priest represents a time when heavy metal and rock 'n' roll had more in common than they do now. The band's cover of (Peter Green's) Fleetwood Mac song "The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)" rocked, but not in a cheesy proggy way, but in a way that acknowledged that bands like Priest, Sabbath, and Zeppelin all had feet firmly planted in electric blues traditions.

Halford's voice held up pretty well, getting a little shaky here and there, but he surprised me by taking a breather during "Breaking the Law," letting the audience sing the entire song while he sang along sans mic. It's awesome that the fans are tight enough to know the whole thing, but I wanted to hear Halford sing it, not the drunk fella a couple seats over from me.

Halford more than made up for it later, riding a hog onto the stage for "Hell Bent For Leather." It was showy, ridiculous, and totally righteous. "It's good to be home," Halford said earlier in the set. The crowd was glad to have him.

Critic's Notebook:

Last night: Judas Priest at the Arizona State Fair.

Better than: The Rush tribute band outside of the coliseum. But they were pretty awesome, too.

The crowd: Baby shaking? Are you kidding me?!

Set List:

"Rapid Fire" "Metal Gods" "Heading Out to the Highway" "Judas Rising" "Starbreaker" "Victim of Changes" "Never Satisfied" "Night Crawler" "Beyond the Realms of Death" "Blood Red Skies" "The Green Manalishi (With the Two Pronged Crown)" (Fleetwood Mac cover) "Breaking the Law" "Painkiller"

Encore: "Hell Bent for Leather" "You've Got Another Thing Comin'"

Encore 2:

"Living After Midnight"

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