Concert review: Judas Priest at St. Pete Times Forum

Like the steelworker imagery the band conjures, Judas Priest is a well-oiled machine. Excluding Halford, the musical lineup has remained constant for nearly two decades. To say their live performances sound like their albums would be insulting. Judas Priest live sounds better. Unfortunately, their stage presence falls far short of their music. Rob Halford nails most of his notes but opts to sloth around the stage as he sings, often leaving during solos and sporadically changing costume. Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing are gifted guitarists, but not showmen. Ian Hill, usually relegated to the rear below the drum riser, shows more signs of life as he headbangs and yanks on the neck of his bass with the rhythm. Scott Travis may be stuck behind the kit, but he possesses more showmanship than the rest of his band combined. Travis kept the time with his left arm and entertained with his right, either twirling the stick or flipping it ten feet in the air and catching it in time for the next beat. I never noticed him miss.


[image-1]As for the music, the nine songs on British Steel run a relatively brief 40 minutes and not every one is a classic. Three songs from the album are setlist mainstays. Three others rotated in and out over the years. Of the last third, only one is a gem. "The Rage" is a slow, methodical and epic, with a bass intro -- rare for Priest -- that allows Ian Hill into the spotlight for some brief recognition he deserves for decades in a workman-like role supporting the Tipton/Downing guitar tandem.


Once they finished British Steel, Priest left us with only seven more songs, including the encore. I imagine many Priest diehards scratched their heads when Halford roared on-stage riding his Harley only to perform "Freewheel Burning" instead of "Hell Bent For Leather."


Despite the concert's shortcomings, it wasn't the least bit difficult to have a great time. After all, I spent 90 minutes banging my head, raising the horns, and screaming the words to a dozen all-time metal classics. But when people ask me how the show was, I have to be honest. It was the most fun I've ever had at a concert that was ultimately unsatisfying. After all -- what if this was the last time I get to see Judas Priest, and the only song they played off Painkiller was "Hell Patrol"?


Setlist


Rapid Fire


Metal Gods


Breaking The Law


Grinder


United


You Don't Have To Be Old To Be Wise


Living After Midnight


The Rage


Steeler


The Ripper


Prophecy


Hell Patrol


Victim of Changes


Freewheel Burning


Diamonds & Rust


You've Got Another Thing Coming


"The Rage" (live, 7/5/2009)



"Diamonds & Rust" (live, 7/5/2009)


A sepia-toned banner depicting a factory and smokestacks reading, "Welcome to the home of British Steel," obscures the stage. The half-house configured St. Pete Times Forum makes the half-full crowd of not more than several thousand look less than impressive. People cheer loud enough as the lights dim and hammers strike steel over the PA. Twin guitars chug, the banner falls, and the metal god snarls, "Pounding the world/ like a battering ram." So begins "Rapid Fire," the opening track of British Steel - Judas Priest's 1980 breakthrough album - set to be replayed sequentially on every stop of their current U.S. tour in order to commemorate its 30th anniversary. So what if the album's only 29 years old? Nobody's perfect! (Photo by Ross Halfin from Wembley Stadium, February 2009; courtesy of JudasPriest.com.)

Judas Priest wasn't supposed to carry the metal load by themselves this summer. Prior to this past week, fellow English hard rockers Whitesnake capably warmed up crowds with their mix of pop rock success ("Here I Go Again") and '80's hair-band anthems ("Still of the Night"). That was until frontman David Coverdale's vocal chords could no longer handle the strain. I guess that's why Coverdale isn't the metal god, and Halford is. Hey... nobody's perfect!

But isn't the phrase 'nobody's perfect' merely optimist-speak for 'inherently flawed'? (Setlist and some decent fan-recorded video after the jump).

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