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Arts and Entertainment

Judas Priest @ Gibson Amphitheater 8/2/09

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judaspriest_armen_terminator.jpg
Photo by by armen_terminator via Flickr, used by permission


Photo by by armen_terminator via Flickr, used by permission
Rob Halford, making fetish gear safe for frustrated hetero youth once again following a twelve-year absence, is leading a crowd of heavily amped looking dudes through a catchy singalong chorus that all of them know by heart. Dudes are grabbing dudes by the shoulders and hollering “Living after midnight! Rockin’ till the dawwwwn!” at each other with great feeling, gazing into each others eyes. The band behind him sounds tight and powerful, twin guitar lines pinching off the air between the strings. It’s the end of the seventies once again, my friends, like the entire decade of eighties metal never happened and we’ve returned to the source. Long live Judas Priest.

Judas Priest - “Priest”, to their many American friends - remain a force to be reckoned with. It’s been thirty years since the release of British Steel, the album that put them over in America, and this year’s celebratory performance of the whole thing in its entirety was one of the big events of the year for old metal heads. Thankfully for those who braved the entry fee, the band did not deny expectations but crunched out a set that spent most of its time replicating what a real British Steel set might have been like back in the day, pulling out early favorites like “The Ripper”, “Victim of Changes” and “Diamonds and Rust”, while ignoring most of their post-1982 catalog and giving up only one track from their 2008 concept album about Nostradamus, which about was the right amount.

Just as Judas Priest embody a lot of the traits that metal bands of the eighties would end up borrowing, as a live act in their middle age, they embody a lot of the strengths required to keep the machine running: tautness, strength, and an ability to remain close to the source. To a man, they look and sound fantastic. KK Downing and Glenn Tipton have somehow maintained the physical conditioning needed to keep those distinctive dual guitar parts sharp as a razor, and after all these years, the whole outfit has the ability to think, breathe and fart in perfect synch. Halford lets the audience take a verse every now and then, but when he feels like it, lets a line rip that reminds us he can still hit those impossible high notes.

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One thing that keeps hitting me throughout their set that I also noticed while watching AC/DC last December… they’re tremendously economical. There’s no waste, nothing that doesn’t need to be there, nothing you don’t want to listen to. The playing isn’t totally full-throttle from note one, it’s restrained enough that there’s always some place for them to build towards. After speed metal, there aren’t a lot of “heavy” bands content to just boogie for a couple of minutes. As for stage presence, Halford is no Freddie Mercury; his signature move consists of walking around the stage and occasionally pointing at something, as if strolling through the mall and periodically identifying an Orange Julius.

But it remains intense, partly because the reliable message of defiance in the lyrics gives the show an emotional arc that’s a flat line across the top. The message to your deepest soul from “Another Thing Coming” isn’t that different from the one in “Living After Midnight” or the one in “Breaking The Law.” While so many other metal bands revel in occult fantasies, Priest are grounded in reality. All their foes are human, all their battles earthly. They’re all about self-gratification, and the power of the Will, which when you really boil it down, is Satanic as hell, and also Metal as fuck. Bands don’t rise to Archetype status for nothing, and Judas Priest are still doing their part to earn the title like it really means something.