Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: Judas Priest, "Epitaph"

The final performance of Judas Priest’s “Epitaph World Tour” in May 2012 provided the perfect opportunity to offer a live video celebration of 40 years of metal.

Filmed in their back yard at the famed Hammersmith Apollo in London, the band had an enthusiastic crowd and a performance that was clicking on all cylinders — once they got going. Things start a little slowly with the instrumental “Battle Hymn” opening, followed by “Rapid Fire,” a tune that seems to be pretty much a warmup for the band. I have to admit that I’m kind of partial to the classic “The Hellion/Electric Eye” opening for a Priest show, too, so that might have something to do with it.

By the time the crowd roars along on “Heading Out to the Highway,” though, the band has kicked into full gear, and “Victim of Changes,” one of the strongest pieces of the set, blasts the show into orbit.

The idea here, as I said earlier, is to celebrate 40 years of Priest, and they hit on every era, pulling out some rare gems here and there among the big must-play numbers. The band delivers a fired-up performance of “Never Satisfied” from their often-overlooked debut album Rocka Rolla, and gets some crowd participation on “Starbreaker” from the Sin After Sin album. “Beyond the Realms of Death,” the offering from Stained Class, is also a big hit with the crowd.

Even rarer than any song they perform, though, might be the appearance of an acoustic guitar on a Judas Priest stage. That comes during a newly reworked version of their cover of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust” that plays on a surprisingly outstanding acoustic version the band performed on VH1 a number of years ago. Of course, they crank it up for the big Priest ending. It’s one of two covers on the night, the other being their ever-present version of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)” which always draws a good reaction.

The most notable piece of crowd interaction on the night, though, might be the classic “Breaking the Law.” After asking his trademark “Breaking the what?” question, Rob Halford never opens his mouth again during the song. Instead, he stalks the stage, directing the packed house as they roar out the lyrics with enthusiasm. It’s a scene that almost repeats itself on “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” where he delivers the first part of the lyric and waits for the response.

As for Halford’s performance, at age 61, he’s obviously lost a bit. He modifies the vocals on some tunes to hit the notes, but he still owns them. Every time you start thinking he’s lost a step, though, Halford delivers a performance like “Blood Red Skies” or “Judas Rising” where he puts every fiber of his being into every note and leaves you in awe. He also still has a flair for the campy side of metal as he shows on “Prophecy,” one of the better songs from Nostradamus, which he performs in a shimmery, hooded cloak, while holding a staff in the shape of the Priest symbol.

The rest of the band is great, too, as always. Scott Travis offers a little nod for fans of his former band Racer X as he throws a bit of “Scarified” into his drum solo that leads into an energized version of “Painkiller.” Glenn Tipton and Ian Hill do what they do. It is a little weird, though, to not see K.K. Downing up on stage. New guitarist Richie Faulkner, who at age 33 is nearly half the age of his 65-year-old counterpart Tipton, holds his own with the legends. The new kid looks as though he’s having a fantastic time being on that stage and seems to have the proper awe for his position. He even gets a big spotlight on “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” which is no small feat.

If I have one complaint with Epitaph, it’s that the project has the disease that so many live videos do these days — jerky, rapid fire angle changes. When Tipton or Faulkner is wailing away on a solo or Halford is singing his guts out, there’s no reason not to leave the camera on them. I don’t need to see close-up/wide angle/close-up/wide angle/close-up from a different angle/wide angle in rapid succession. I’m perfectly fine with appreciating it from the same angle for as long as it takes them to finish what they’re doing. I also didn’t think the effects that were used from time to time over the video added anything. Neither of those things, though, are the fault of Judas Priest, which turns in one hell of a performance here.

If there’s any band out there that fully represents what heavy metal is about, Judas Priest is that band. They’re one of the few of the classic acts that have never shied away from the label. In fact, Halford uses it in this show during his chatter from the stage as often as he possibly can. Though most of the members of Priest qualify for the senior discount these days, there’s no denying that they’ve still got the balls, the fire and the power to show the whippersnappers how it’s done. Epitaph is the proof.

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