Judas Priest has been coming to San Antonio basically since its inception in the early ’70s. So Wednesday night’s United States Epitaph tour kickoff at the AT&T Center was not a case of saving the best for last.
But it was solid as always. And the Alamo City can count its lucky stars that the elder British Steel statesmen have made South Texas a stopping point many times over.
The vote here says that the 30th anniversary of British Steel tour in 2009, the mighty Priest’s previous visit, was a better show. But after seeing Judas Priest live for the fourth time in seven years in San Antonio, and seventh time overall dating to the 1988 Ram It Down tour in other states, it’s safe to say the Priest delivered another consistent heavy show packed with the songs you’d expect them to play — and a few twists.
Armed with Black Label Society and four decade-plus mainstays Thin Lizzy as opening acts, the Priest played at least one song from every album that Rob Halford sang on (see setlist at slideshow, left) — marking the first time this viewer had heard something from 1974 debut Rocka Rolla. The strains of “Never Satisfied” were played with the original Coca-Cola bottle-like album cover as a backdrop. Considering that tune followed the seldom-played “Starbreaker,” plus the SAMME’s personal air drum/air guitar/screaming vocal favorite “Victim Of Changes,” it was almost too much Priest to digest only seven songs in.
Yeah, right. Like there’s such a thing as too much Priest.
The show marked the San Antonio debut of 31-year-old guitarist Richie Faulkner, who got the gig after original axeman K.K. Downing shockingly retired before the tour (see “suggested” links below). The spolight shined on Faulkner and 63-year-old Glenn Tipton for the hauntingly chilling intro to “Victim Of Changes.” Halford’s interchange between the soothing melodies and screaming climax on the nearly eight-minute tune from 1974’s Sad Wings Of Destiny may not have been the best he’s ever performed. But it’s not likely anyone in attendance could have done better. At age 60, Halford is still one of heavy metal’s top-three vocalists.
As incredible as it seemed to fathom at the time, bassist Ian Hill told the SAMME in our exclusive interview (see bottom) in regards to Faulkner: “The crowd is taking to him well, and with all due respect to Ken, no one’s missing him. No one’s asking about Ken . . . you’ll know why when you see Richie perform.”
While Downing has not been forgotten, Faulkner’s playing was a sight to behold nearly as much as how he fit in with the rest of the band. His presence also meant drummer Scott Travis can no longer be considered the new guy after 21 years in the band. Halford and Tipton acknowledged as much when Travis, for perhaps the first time at any Priest show in San Antonio, was given the opportunity to speak to the crowd. Prior to final encore “Livin’ After Midnight” — is it really the final song Priest will ever play here? — Travis stood behind his drums and said in part, “It’s good to be back in the good ol’ U-S-of-A.”
While Priest made good on its promise to bring pyro, the Harley-Davidson on “Hell Bent For Leather” and a two-hour plus farewell show, a small handful of song choices were less than satisfying if you’ve seen Priest several times. Case in point: The only song they have performed in San Antonio from 2008’s Nostradamus is “Prophecy.” That’s a double album with far better offerings, including the blistering title track, but Wednesday marked the third consecutive tour in which “Prophecy” was played. Likewise, the only song Priest seems to perform off 1986’s Turbo is Turbo Lover, and it happened again. “Locked In” or “Rock You All Around The World” would have quenched some folks’ thirst.
But those were minor blips compared to the amount of fist-pumping moments. The rarely played epic “Blood Red Skies” was a highlight, and the tempo and vocal changes on “Beyond The Realms of Death” rivaled “Victim Of Changes” as song of the night. “Painkiller” is a 1990 anthem that guarantees a sore neck the morning after. And Halford’s screeching of “Beware the beast, beware the beast!” on “Night Crawler,” as he paraded up and down the stage in his black leather coat and spikes, was pure Priest.
The band tossed a bit of a curve ball during “Breaking The Law” as Halford didn’t sing a single note. He allowed the crowd to take over instead. The gesture was Priest’s way of saying thanks. It was either a nice touch or a sign that Halford is sick of singing the band’s most popular song for the umpteenth time. More than likely, it was a combination.
In reality, the Alamo City should be thanking Judas Priest. Even if we’ll no longer get to say, “The Priest is back.”
Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society followed Thin Lizzy’s 45-minute opening set with an hour-long show of their own. Whether down in the photo pit or in Section 104, Wylde’s vocals were difficult to make out, through no fault of his. He hit the stage with a black and white Indian headdress for the first two songs after the curtain dropped. Whether he was playing “Overlord,” “Parade Of The Damned” or “Godspeed Hellbound” off latest album Order Of The Black, or the popular “Stillborn,” Wylde’s frenetic guitar work reminded us why Ozzy Osbourne tabbed him at age 19 back in 1988 to become the Prince of Darkness’ next great guitarist for nearly 20 years.
Make no mistake. Although Wylde has solid musicians backing him, people attend a BLS show strictly for Wylde. His guitar work in every song is mesmerizing enough that a special solo isn’t needed. He provided one nevertheless.
Thin Lizzy, led by original drummer Brian Downey and longtime guitarist Scott Gorham, got the early crowd rockin’ and standing with “Emerald” and “Rosalie,” along with the mandatory “Whiskey In The Jar” and “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Marco Mendoza, who has played with Lynch Mob, Ted Nugent and several others, rocked the bass. Ricky Warwick, who joined in 2009, is the latest vocalist following in the footsteps of legendary Phil Lynott, who died 25 years ago.
If you can’t stand the thought of Judas Priest not coming back to the area, or simply want more from these bands, gas it up to Corpus Christi. They’ll be playing Concrete Street Amphitheater tonight. Tickets can be bought here.
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