Sunday, May 24, 2015

Think Judas Priest Too Old to Prove Their Metal? You've Got Another Thing Coming -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Judas Priest
w/ opening act Saxon
Rosemont Theatre
May 21, 2015

There are several acts I now realize I should have seen while in high school, including U2, R.E.M., Hüsker Dü, The Replacements and Talking Heads.

I would first see U2 just days after my graduation in 1986, R.E.M. just a few months later and both numerous times since.

I've also now seen The Replacements multiple times--including just a month ago--plus their lead singer and songwriter, Paul Westerberg, a few more times.

Due to their splintering in 1987 or 1988, I've only seen Hüsker Dü and Talking Heads represented by their singers/songwriters, Bob Mould & Grant Hart and David Byrne.  

But there was also a band I actively wanted to see while in high school, and theoretically had a chance to, but didn't.

And never would, or even again much wish to, as my fandom and interest subsequently waned.

Judas Priest.

Well, that omission has now been corrected, as after months of waffling on whether it would be worthwhile, I bought an inexpensive ticket to their show Thursday night at a nearly full but not sold-out Rosemont Theatre.

I'm glad I did, as the "Metal Gods" proved they could still pack a punch, even as most of their members are now well into their 60s (or recent replacements, as in the case of guitarist Richie Faulkner taking the spot long held by K.K. Downing).

Lead singer Rob Halford, who was out of the band for a stretch but back in front for a dozen years now, still sings as powerfully as I might have hoped in 1984. 

Although I liked Judas Priest back in high school, it was primarily through their relatively few radio hits like "Living After Midnight," "Breaking the Law" "Hell Bent for Leather" and "You've Got Another Thing Coming."

Beyond a greatest hits album I've rarely listened to, I've never dug deep in their catalog, and despite reading good things about their 2014 album, Redeemer of Souls, I can't say I had done more than check it out once or twice on Spotify.

The sparsity of songs I recognized on their recent setlists, which have been resolutely exact despite a vast catalog, was actually a big part why I remained lukewarm about going, despite some initial interest when I heard about the Rosemont show.

After my friend Jim Ryan, who runs the Chicago at Night music blog, posted a Facebook link to an interview he did with Judas Priest founding bassist Ian Hill that ran in the Daily Herald, my interest was peaked enough to find an under-face value balcony seat on StubHub.

A few days of fervent Spotifamiliarizing myself with the setlisted tunes made most of what I heard at the rather sterile Rosemont Theatre pretty recognizable, including early gems like "Metal Gods," "Love Bites," "Turbo Lover" and "Jawbreaker"--all triggering a bit of faded recollect--and new album songs "Dragonaut," "Halls of Valhalla" and "Redeemer of Souls." (See the Judas Priest Rosemont Theatre setlist on

But until the four quasi "hits" I mentioned above, along with "Electric Eye" and "Painkiller," made for a blistering sextet to close out the 105-minute show, I was more satisfactorily entertained than truly blown away.

Halford and other band members made some gracious remarks about Chicago always being quite welcoming over the band's long history, but perhaps because all the songs were inextricably tied to complex lighting and video cues, the show felt a bit too "by the numbers" for my tastes.

I expect that much more devout Judas Priest fans might wince at this, and it's my hope they enjoyed the entire concert more fervently than I did.

They can further deride me as a meatless metalhead when I admit that until I looked up Saxon on Wikipedia during their performance, I didn't realize that the opening act was a legitimately respected, influential and popular British metal band dating back to the mid-'70s--à la Judas Priest, with whom they first toured in 1980--and not a preening L.A. hair-metal band from the '80s.

As such, I was thoroughly surprised and impressed by Saxon, as long gray tressed lead singer Biff Byford and company blasted through songs such as "Power and the Glory," "Wheels of Steel," "Princess of the Night" and set-closing "Heavy Metal Thunder" to a rapturously receptive crowd.

Intimated by my opening paragraphs above, heavy metal has never been my sole, or even predominant musical taste--beyond the acts I didn't see in high school, I did catch The Kinks, Cheap Trick, Bruce Springsteen, Yes, Phil Collins, ZZ Top and John Cougar Mellencamp, though also Deep Purple, Ozzy Osbourne, Rush, Van Halen, Scorpions and, less proudly, Ratt--and metal marks an even smaller percentage of my concert mix now.

So rare as it may be, it was undeniably enjoyable to do a bit of latter-day headbanging, as both Judas Priest and Saxon aptly demonstrated that they not only were--but still are--extremely potent paragons of heavy metal power (chords).

My inner Beavis & Butthead gleefully fist-pumped, air guitared and screamed along during "Breaking the Law," "You've Got Another Thing Coming" and the show-closing "Livin' After Midnight."

And though in meeting up with Jim Ryan between Saxon and Judas Priest I joked that the crowd felt like a high school reunion full of people who wouldn't attend a high school reunion, I was speaking with admiration and self-identification. (Even if I was never part of the "smoking in the parking lot" crowd in high school, nor have ever had long hair, I still unabashedly love my black concert t-shirts).

It's certainly likely that I didn't love Judas Priest quite as much as some other concerts--including 6 within the past month--in part because my fandom and familiarity were a bit lesser going in.

Coming out, I was definitely glad I decided to go, as both the headliner and opening act made for 2-1/2 hours of loudly delectable heavy metal. Devoid of the cheesiness of hair metal, Judas Priest's (and Saxon's) British Steel remains rock solid.

But the very best concerts I see, including some by acts with whom I'm not thoroughly well-versed--such as a remarkable recent gig by Manic Street Preachers--make me actively want to see them again, sometimes almost immediately.

While I'm glad to have finally seen Judas Priest in concert, 30+ years since I initially wanted to, I think once may be sufficient.

But if you think that means that they're no longer the "Metal Gods" of their--and my--youth, well, "You've Got Another Thing Coming."

Here's a snippet I shot of the latter song: 

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