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Some bands just seem indestructible. Despite a constantly shifting musical landscape, ex-members writing rather contentious biographies, and the march of time itself, Judas Priest is somehow still managing to fly the flag for the blistering brand of British heavy metal they helped create.
Celebrating the highest charting album in its fifty-year history, 2018’s Firepower, Priest rolled into Stifel Theatre to blast the bejesus out of the mostly older crowd of classic K-SHE rock disciples.
After the strains of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs spilled from the P.A. successfully whipping the gathered throng into a frenzy, the band hit the stage with “Necromancer,” the first of several tracks from the latest record. Rob Halford, Priest’s resident Metal God, entered wearing what would best be described as a glam-banged purple pimp suit, impressively accessorized with a long cane and topped by a bedazzled mini-skull. He came across as a Paisley Park witch doctor, which amazingly, seemed to hit just the right balance between camp and metal showmanship. There were enough costume changes to make Cher proud, and they probably served the purpose of allowing Halford opportunities to catch a well-earned break.
Since quitting smoking several years ago, Halford is singing better than ever, impressively hitting all the requisite high notes in songs like “The Sentinel,” “Judas is Rising,” and “Steeler.” If he had some issues sustaining notes, we eventually found out why. The band issued a press release after the show stating Halford had been suffering from bronchitis and their next show in Colorado Springs would ultimately be postponed.
On the guitar slinger front, Richie Faulkner and producer Andy Sneap (ably stepping in for the ailing Glenn Tipton) proved to be a formidable duo with impressive chemistry. They were clearly having a good time trading riffs on “Spectre,” navigating the tricky dynamics of the emotional “Victim of Changes” as well as “Tyrant” from the band’s seminal 1976 release Sad Wings of Destiny that highlighted their dual-harmony guitar work. Tipton, who has retired from live performances due to his ongoing battle with Parkinson’s disease, was represented via a video that saw him rocking with the band on the appropriately inspiring Firepower track “No Surrender.”
Scott Travis, Priest’s percussive heartbeat for almost thirty years, anchored and propelled the band through deep cuts like “Starbreaker” and more recent tracks like “Halls of Valhalla” from 2014’s Redeemer of Souls. Locking in with Travis is the always rock-solid Ian Hill, the band’s bassist and last remaining truly original member, who was anchored to stage right, never moving an inch from his post. Honestly, if Judas Priest audiences ever saw him migrate outside the invisible parameters of his small patch of real estate, they would probably die of a collective heart attack.
Could the set list have been a little better? Maybe. “All Guns Blazing” could have easily been replaced with “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” “Locked In,” or “Painkiller,” but kudos to the band for keeping things unpredictable after all these years.
Encoring with the a three-pronged attack of “Hell Bent for Leather,” “Breaking the Law,” and “Living After Midnight,” the crowd emptied onto Market Street where a celebration was in full swing for the St. Louis Blues game 4 victory in the Stanley Cup finals next door at Enterprise Center.
Opening the show was Uriah Heep, a band that could have easily phoned-in their performance without much effort at all. Thankfully, they took the opposite approach, playing rock radio hits like “Gypsy” and “Easy Livin’” while scattering in brand new songs from their 2018 LP Living the Dream. Led by charismatic frontman Bernie Shaw, the highlight of their set was guitarist Mick Box, who seemed to be able to coax glorious leads from his fretboard while making wild gestures like a mad wizard sending spells and blessings into the sky. | Jim Ousley
Photos by Chris Anich. Click to enlarge.