JUDAS PRIEST - Delivering The Firepower Live With A Guest Appearance From Glenn Tipton!

March 21, 2018, a year ago

Mark Gromen

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Time was, back in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, the Judas Priest setlist was virtually written in stone. Only a new album could crack the running order and then, it was typically just adding five or six cuts from the latest effort, most failing to live on to the next touring cycle. Now, with the infusion of new guitarists (Richie Faulkner, on his second global jaunt, following the retirement of KK Downing, and Sabbat/Hell guitarist-turned-producer Andy Sneap, drafted for the unfortunate news of Glenn Tipton's Parkinson diagnosis), both of whom are Judas Priest fans themselves, the band has rediscovered lost gems. Paradoxically, the Firepower record (although a bit too long, at 14 selections) contains at least a half dozen of the highest caliber, of which we get only the three pre-released singles/videos. Perhaps, with time and fan familiarity (the disc was released at the same time the initial leg kicked off), the likes of "Raising From Ruins", "Necromancer" or "Never The Heroes" will make their way onstage. In the meantime, the current incarnation smokes!

It's like Rob Halford has found the fountain of youth, no longer lumbering across the stage, or using a cane, as has been seen on previous global treks. To say nothing of his newfound vocal power (As far back as a decade ago, on the Nostradamus tour, there were sideways glances about The Metal God losing much of his high end. Screams tonight would say otherwise, although it's still early in the tour and there are more days off, between shows, than ever before). Perhaps it's the vitality of the new blood, especially Faulkner, who is animated throughout (Sneap is still cheating, looking at his fretboard on certain oldies, but sure that will cease, with familiarity) or maybe the recent loss of musical contemporaries, but Halford was more active and sounding better than he has in a long time. In fact, the Cher of Metal made at least half a dozen wardrobe changes throughout the night. Even before the show started, other journalists revealed that Tipton had been spotted practicing with the guys, in NYC, the day before. Whispers of his onstage arrival would eventually be proved true.

Kicking off with the title track from the new album, both Halfrod and Faulkner sporting mirror sunglasses, the singer in a fringed, silver jacket with Firepower emblazoned on the back. Despite being relatively young, the song is met like an old friend by a rabid crowd that has filled the Prudential Center arena (home of the NHL's Devils) since the sparsely attended opening acts (Saxon & Black Star Riders). "Running Wild" is one of the oldies that should be dusted off more often, great tune. Halford removed his sunglasses and a song later ("Grinder") has also dispensed with the jacket.

"Sinner" and "The Ripper", back-to-back? What year is it? The latter, begun with the guitar tandem, center stage, shows old English newspapers and accounts of the notorious Jack the Ripper case on the ever changing video board behind the band. Appropriately crimson lit, Sneap stands on the raised shadowbox, stage left. Newbie "Lightning Strikes" see Faulkner take control. Out at the edge of the stage, in front of the wedge monitors, he has all the rock star poses (even KK Downing's single handed guitar lift). Onscreen flames and lightning flicker around Matterhorn inspired mountain scenery. Screaming For Vengeance artwork alone elicits a huge response, even moreso when "Bloodstone" comes blaring out the amplifiers. 

Have to believe Faulkner/Sneap are somehow responsible for the likes of red lit "Saints In Hell" returning to the line-up. Imagine, “Rob, why don't we try 'X'? It's one of my favorites..." Green lasers and plenty of fog as a Nosferatu shadow puppet show plays out onscreen, guitarists on risers, opposite sides of the stage. Halford nails all the high notes and as it ends, Richie, with his Flying V, raises devil horns (extended index fingers to each side of his head) ala Angus Young (AC/DC). Halford changes clothes again, into some sort of floor-length nightgown, come "Turbo Lover". Faulkner plays from his knees, while the singer visits the stage right shadowbox, pointing to the "metal maniacs" seated on that side of the hall. Almost impossible to comprehend how the song has gone from reviled (in the ‘80s) to endearing. Fiery pistons pump, in cartoon form, onscreen.

After a long absence, "The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)" returns to the set (Fleetwood Mac thanks you for the clink in their royalty check coffers), replacing "Angel", which had been a staple of the tour's initial week. Maybe there's still some kinks to work out with the video presentation, but not sure why the head of the beast from Defenders Of The Faith album was shown during that song? No matter, Halford was out front, like some metallic maestro, directing a symphony of crowd voices, come the chorus. Rob returned, donning a new waistcoat, for the final Firepower aired number, "Evil Never Dies", as animated portions of the album artwork pulse by overhead, rapid fire. "Some Heads Are Gonna Roll" begins red, with both guitars center stage, Halford in a half-length leather jacket, atop silver pants. 

Bit shocked to see the hit/usual encore fodder "You've Got Another Thing Comin" as part of the proper set, foreshadowing later events. Faulkner is alone, onstage, as it begins, the video board displaying real-time images of band and tonight's crowd, interspersed with b&w footage from early 1900s labor strife. Upon its completion, all leave the stage and shortly thereafter, the roar of a revving Harley motor heralds the return of the band, in a cloud of fog and exhaust. Cue "Hellbent For Leather", Rob decked out in the old leather riding cap and crop, as images of motor cycle racing and Hells Angels pop onscreen. "The Hellion/Electric Eye" is afforded one of the biggest responses so far, but then comes "Painkiller". Halford sporting a leather/chainmail ensemble as the video board shows vintage clips of Tipton playing with the band. Another portent. Rob shrieks like a man half his age, as Faulkner wails away, from his knees. 

The encore is bitter sweet, as Tipton is introduced to the crowd. Even in his last years with the band, onstage he was fairly stationary, in stark contrast to tonight's frenetic performance (apart from mainstay bassist Ian Hill, still steadfastly rocking away, in the background). We now know Tipton was hiding the early stages of his Parkinson's diagnosis. Now looking thin and frail, they work through three slower, well-worn oldies with their visiting friend, "Metal Gods", "Breaking The Law" and "Living After Midnight". Playing with a trio of guitars, Sneap faded into the background, behind Faulkner, allowing Tipton to return to his historic, stage left location. Even without this added bonus, this was the best Judas Priest performance in decades. Firepower? You betcha!

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