By Skylaire Alfvegren
Judas Priest at Gibson Amphitheatre, August 2
Last year, Birmingham, UK stalwarts Judas Priest released an ambitious double album conceptualizing the life of French seer, Nostradamus, and mounted an epic summer escapade with Motorhead and Heaven & Hell. Under the stars above Glen Helen, the voice of lead thunderer Rob Halford seemed to scale the heavens (though many of his fans won't).
Judas Priest doesn't need much publicity to keep things moving and still fill seats, as evidenced by Sunday's near sold-out presentation of their 1980 epic, British Steel. The band members, clad in retro-vintage costumes and anchored tight to their spots, delivered the goods, from the almost tribal fan sing-a-long of “Breaking the Law,” to an electro-enhanced “United.”
From studio album to live performance, British Steel was sonically beefier, in large part due to drummer Scott Travis' double bass ambidexterity, which the album's percussionist Dave Holland lacked. Travis didn't really go gonzo until the encore, which featured a possible Guinness entry for longest guitar note ever held (Glenn Tipton, razor on glass, “Victim of Changes.”)
Based on Halford's descriptions of Birmingham, the manufacturing town is a greyer, louder take on the City of Industry, a place where, as he's told me, the pounding of steel just “gets in your blood.” It's also the birthplace of Iron Maiden (and Black Sabbath).
The psychology which prompts elderly women to wear their hair in the style of the happiest time in their lives is present at Priest (and Maiden) shows; they, almost intrinsically linked, are bands which are generally discovered at some penultimate point in life, a point when one feels the most cloistered yet rebellious. It could be high school. Whether 17 and Ecuadorian-born, 45 and a plumber from Encino, or a bleached-out butt rocker from somewhere in time, they were all there for the same purpose.
A plump, mustachioed man held a lonely lighter aloft, and was quickly accosted by a golf-shirted Gibson employee. (Later, that same flame made it close to the stage, a tiny defiant spark trying to catch against the machinations of rock and roll's corporate packaging.)
Neon green lasers bounced maniacally about the ceiling, as though trying to escape. Halford gave a shout out to our troops, garnering as many whoops and hollers as “Living After Midnight” had. Pointing to the banners which flanked the drum riser and hung behind it, “our flag from the U.K., the Union Jack, and the beautiful stars and stripes of the U.S.A.,” he referred to our countries as allies in heavy metal. “Together in peace and in war,” Halford praised the “brave men and women fighting for our freedom,” before breaking into his customary “whoa-oh-whoa-oh-whoa, yeah” call and response with the audience, who soon after escaped into the temperature controlled night of Universal City Walk.