Metal Gods Deliver the Goods in Detroit

Most bands with the longevity of Judas Priest spend their time on the road performing the same greatest hits package they’ve been touring on since the late 80’s. With the mere mention of a “song off our new album”, they can send droves of fans racing for the restrooms like cattle fleeing a brushfire. But Judas Priest isn’t most bands. When it comes to metal, they are THE band. The architects. The innovators. And since their new album Firepower debuted at #5 on the Billboard albums chart, they certainly don’t have to worry about sneaking new material into their set. The band came out swinging, opening with the new LP’s title track. It brought the crowd to their feet, but not to make a run for the beer line.

Riding high on the success of Firepower, Priest seemed poised and confident from the moment they took the stage. Singer Rob Halford emerged in a reflective silver-fringed jacket and pants, as if ready to absorb all the stage light thrown at him and bounce it back to the crowd as heavy metal energy. He would go on to change his outfit at least three times during the show, rivaling any pop diva in the business. The key distinction between Halford and most pop divas being that the legendary frontman actually sings live – and the results are astounding. For a man of 66, Halford’s voice is still powerful enough to reach highs much vocalists can only dream of. He’s not hitting the all the notes of say 1983 Rob, but he knows what his voice is still capable of, and  he makes use of it with a mastery generally reserved for those singing opera.

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The night’s other beacon of light was Richie Faulkner, the immensely talent guitarist who took the daunting task of replacing K.K. Downing a few years back. Over the course of two albums, Faulkner has become the band’s driving force both creatively and onstage. The consummate showman, he commanded the stage like a panther with a Flying V, engaging the audience every step of the way. Watching interviews with the two, it’s easy to pick up on the bond that has formed between he and Halford in the few short years they’ve been working together, and is likely the reason Rob is still so fired up about the band.

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Noticeably absent from the stage was Glenn Tipton, the legendary guitarist responsible for many of the band’s most enduring riffs and solos. Tipton bowed out of the tour due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. While album co-producer Andy Sneap did a commendable job substituting for Glenn, the shoes are simply too big to fill. When Downing left the band, it was a blow to be sure, but Faulkner did the unexpected and won over a majority of fans in no time at all. But where Halford may be the face of Judas Priest, Tipton has been its heart from their first LP. Priest without him feels like Deep Purple without Ritchie Blackmore. Still solid, but never the same. The right side of the stage felt empty without his presence. One has to wonder where the band goes on from here without him.

Another of the show’s highlights was the setlist itself. The three tracks from the new album were all well-received, particularly Lightning Strike, which the crowd took to like a perennial classic. The tried-and-true songs were mostly present, including the all out sing-a-long of Turbo Lover – a song supposedly universally despised by metalheads upon its release, but one that now everyone curiously knows all the words to. It’s a great song. Admit it. The band also dug deep into their catalog, dusting off excellent tracks like Bloodstone, Some Heads Are Gonna Roll and Saints in Hell. The set flowed well and the crowd was pumping fists and raising horns for the entire ride.

Being around as long as Judas Priest has been is an impressive feat onto itself. Putting out an album as good as Firepower and delivering such an electric performance this late in the game is simply unrivaled. They truly are the Metal Gods.

Todd Gilleland
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