Saturday, Oct. 29
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Saturday, Oct. 29 WaMu Theater
Judas Priest, Black Label Society, Thin Lizzy
Saturday, Oct. 29
Not many musicians, let alone ones in their 60s, could pull off dressing head-to-toe in leather and spikes while performing on a stage dense with fog and heavy with lasers. But most bands aren't Judas Priest, the godfathers of heavy metal, who stopped in Seattle Saturday night as part of their Epitaph World Tour, an outing the band is billing as their final global jaunt.
The band has been at it for 40 years, never straying far from the metal sound and aesthetic they helped define alongside Black Sabbath, an influence which can still be heard in all manner of heavy music from Metallica to Mastadon. At the center of the Priest universe is Rob Halford, a bald, badass biker, whose high-pitched wails have retained their power throughout the band's four decades, a remarkable feat. And pretty much nobody but Halford can get away with the things he did on Saturday night. He did more wardrobe changes than Beyonce, donning a different jacket after nearly every song--some long, some sleeveless, some with spikes, some with chains, and, as he's done for many years, he rode his Harley onto the stage during the band's encore.
The group's live show is riddled with what now seem like rock clichés, but which are actually moves Judas Priest invented that have simply been copied endlessly by the several generations of bands they influenced. And because Priest have opted to proudly promulgate said moves and stage effects instead of evolving them, the band has become a caricature of itself. They are simultaneously metal gods and Spinal Tap, a strange combination of majesty and mockery, but one that leaves you grinning while you pump your fists along with "Turbo Lover."
The band played for over two hours, selecting songs from each of their studio albums, not just the requisite hits, like "Breaking the Law" and "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," but deeper tracks like "Starbreaker" from their 1978 LP Sin After Sin. "We're going to do our best to take you through the life of Judas Priest," Halford said of the set list, and most songs were accompanied by the projected image of the album it appeared on.
The biggest disappointment Saturday night was the void left by the departure of original guitarist K.K. Downing, who retired shortly before the band's tour began. Not only did Downing and fellow guitarist Glenn Tipton anchor the band's sound with their dueling leads, but the pair had a great camaraderie as the wingmen for Halford. Replacement guitarist Richie Faulkner did an able job, looking good in his leathers, but at half the age of Tipton, the pair had limited chemistry, a by-product of nothing more that not having spent 40 years on stage together.
A modern incarnation of blue-collar rockers Thin Lizzy opened the show, but without principle songwriter and singer Phil Lynott, who died in 1983, it felt less like a tribute and more like a cash grab, especially without any new material in the band's catalog since Lynott's death. In the support slot was Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society, who synthesized newer metal sounds with a classic metal sensibility, particularly Wylde's ridiculous dexterity on the fretboard. Wylde appeared onstage in a full Indian headdress, pounding his chest repeatedly during the set like a biker-version of Ted Nugent.
The winding down of Judas Priest as a touring machine may be a bummer, but the upside is that the sound they created will live on in all the bands they impacted. At one point in the show, Halford talked about the different variations of metal that have sprung up during the band's history--power metal, speed metal, death metal, black metal--none of which would be around without the blueprints laid by Judas Priest. Name of their final world tour aside, the band's epitaph was written years ago by the millions of kids who have found comfort in the aggression and power of metal--and who will continue to worship at the altar of its patron saints, Judas Priest.
The scene: Several generations of metal fans and many more men than women.
Overheard at the show: The name of every band played over the speakers between sets. "Saxon!," the metal know-it-all behind me yelled out, as if on cue. "Slayer!"