In the world of heavy metal, only one band besides Black Sabbath has had an equally massive and lasting impression on the generations that followed. That band was and continues to be Judas Priest. Iconic for its introduction of leather S&M garb to the metal genre, and aside from a small hiatus in the mid '90s, Judas Priest has been a metal institution for five decades since its humble beginnings in Birmingham in 1969.
After distancing themselves from the early hippie leanings of many British metal acts of the time, Judas Priest -- or simply Priest as their fans are fond of chanting -- has gone on to deliver a remarkable recorded legacy and memorable live shows. While it's never enjoyed mainstream success like other metal acts, the band's 1980 single "Breaking the Law" is one of the enduring anthems of the genre.
Add to their metal mythos the incomparable self-parodying contemporary '80s glam metal band Steel Panther at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, and you've got the recipe for a successful evening of metal firmly in place.
When I got in and settled in my seat, Steel Panther was halfway through its over-sexualized Weird Al on meth song, "Just Like Tiger Woods," which had the crowd singing along. For the uninitiated, Steel Panther is an '80s-inspired glam metal band that is equal parts metal music and glam metal cabaret. If one can remember the effeminate get-ups of your Poisons and Warrants, you can visualize the look.
But that part's easy, the best of the band comes in the form of in-between song banter and the self-aggrandizing, overtly-macho lyricism of the songs themselves. Even its pantomimes during the songs are spot on, like guitarist Satchel showing a pretty good swing during the Tiger Woods ribbing.
Like all good rock bands, the butt of all jokes is the bass player and poor Lexxi Foxx with his pretty princess in the spotlight looks plays the foil well whenever Satchel and singer Michael Starr jabbed at him.
It certainly doesn't help matters that part of Lexxi's shtick was a lit mirror vanity set atop his cabinet, where he constantly and fastidiously arranged his hair and makeup. This was followed by the hilarious testament to male douche-y virility, "Community Property" and its version of a romantic ballad "Eyes of a Panther." While the PC crowd might have themselves a conniption, those who like humor and music are right at home with these guys.
This was followed by their PSA condemning the Justin Biebers of the world and singling out some of the younger attendees in the audience to rail against becoming a "Bieber" but rather more like Starr, who though unfortunately "30 pounds overweight still gets more pussy than anyone in the world." Starr's visible pouch at age 49 is not meant to be hidden, but rather ridiculed for love -- cue in the Vince Neil and cunnilingus jokes.
Lexxi's sole reason for withstanding the barrage of insults and given lines to utter in the vein of Steve Carell's Brik Tamland character in the Anchorman movies came when Satchel and Starr knelt at his feet for his "hair solo." With pursed lips and obvious admiration, it was evident that those two were blowing (on) him. A one-two punch of "17 Girls in a Row" and "Gloryhole" set up a raucous rendition of "Party All Night (Fuck All Day)" before picking on a Bad Religion T-shirt wearing crowd member who gave them the finger.
Never breaking stride, Satchel informed him: "Relax man, we'll be gone after 16 or 17 more songs. This next one's called 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida'..." before closing out their set with "Death to All but Metal." A fun act I'll be sure to catch again.
After a brief intermission and a couple of tunes over the PA, the crowd knew it was about to go down when Sabbath's "War Pigs" came on and the lights dimmed. Then the curtain dropped and Ian Hill, the sole founding member left in the lineup - looking every bit a deranged cross between David Crosby and Harvey Keitel - and in full command of his bass so as to no one try to pull any Steel Panther-esque shit on him; long-running guitarist Glenn Tipton, drummer Scott Travis and K.K. Downing's replacement Richie Faulkner were onstage getting it started with "Dragonaut," the opening track of their latest album and tour moniker Redeemer of Souls.
And in the battle cry, the mighty Rob Halford emerged from the side of the stage, an area that will here on out be known as the "Halford Tent of Power and/or Wardrobe Changes" or just "the Tent" showing that while he might be 63 years old, those pipes of his have lost very little in the process. This was followed by "Metal Gods" and "Devil Child," which the leather king, clad in his traditional black leather and spikes, long coat and gloves, interesting bell-bottom pants and perfectly shaved dome, managed to skirt through before new song "Halls of Valhalla" was given a South Florida debut.
It's interesting to note that the set list would reveal a leaning towards 1980's British Steel and the new album with other eras represented but the "newer" metal sound and cadence of the new songs, specially two so early up front, set a tone early on in the show that brought up the intensity on old favorites up a bit. Whether that was intentional or not, it made for an interesting listen and satisfaction in seeing a band perform their music live with some variance on the recorded version.
Also, the 30th anniversary DVD concert that was filmed for the British Steel 2010 reissue was shot at the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood and you could see that the band has a certain fondness for the venue that shone through in their performance.
Another key aspect of the evening was Halford's incessant ventures into "the Tent" which were usually for slight wardrobe changes/adjustments but sometimes just for the sheer Hell of it. Oh well, he kept the microphone in his hand and would sometimes emerge in the middle of a note. "Love Bites" was introduced as part of a speech on Defenders of the Faith's 30th anniversary and that was followed by "March of the Damned" creating a nice juxtaposition of classic Priest and new Priest material.
Halford is nowhere near as animated as he was in the past but he had a casual gait onstage and his impressive vocal prowess was never under suspicion. Talk about a voice that will never be imitated; growly when needed, crisp when a point had to be made, ear-piercing when it remanded the rest of the instruments, and full of operatic glee when it came time to knock down Heaven's door. Impressive on record, yes, but sublime to behold live.
"Turbo Lover," "Redeemer of Souls," and "Beyond the Realms of Death" made for a nice mid-point in the set before it cut loose with a vivid rendition of "Jawbreaker" that tickled the base of my brain during the coda. This set up for the band's most recognizable hit "Breaking the Law" which the crowd appreciated immensely and Priest presented with gusto -- a rarity these days with bands who'd rather leave certain hits behind. Halford encouraged the crowd for the first couple runs of the chorus.
After a longer stop in "the Tent," the sound of a motorcycle revving and exhaust filling the stage was heard and seen. Sure enough, Halford in his leather dominus best came out, crop/switch in hand for a fun run of "Hell Bent for Leather" which was followed by "You've Got Another Thing Coming" which was more ominous for the bike, seeing that Halford kept spanking the seat with his switch. Who knows what the infernal thing did to deserve it?
Knowing that the crowd was ready for more, Halford changed again, and with a sequined red skull mask and pimp cane in hand, Faulkner in a stormtrooper helmet, and led by Travis' hand-clapping command, Priest commenced its closing with the always fun and upbeat "Living After Midnight" before ending the gig properly with "Defenders of the Faith."
And the faithful, who sold out the Hard Rock on a Thursday night, were thunderously appreciative of Judas Priest and what it has meant to the world of heavy metal. For a band that at one point entertained the idea of throwing in the towel, Priest shows no real signs of wear. And if every night on tour fans are witness to the fun that these guys are having, it'll be a very long time before any of them consider retiring again.
Partial Set List:
"Just Like Tiger Woods"
"Eyes of a Panther"
"17 Girls in a Row"
"Party All Night (Fuck All Day)"
"Death to All but Metal"
"Halls of Valhalla"
"March of the Damned"
"Redeemer of Souls"
"Beyond the Realms of Death"
"Breaking the Law"
"Hell Bent for Leather"
"You've Got Another Thing Coming"
"Living After Midnight"
"Defenders of the Faith"
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