Rosemont Theatre: May 25, 2019 - Rosemont, IL
Judas Priest made their third Chicago area appearance recently, in support of their 2018 album Firepower, where they didn't just deliver the goods, they decimated any and all expectations. For a band approaching their sixth decade as performers, the five members of Judas Priest (Rob Halford, Richie Faulkner, Ian Hill, Scott Travis & Andy Sneap) proceeded to thrill the Chicago audience with guitars ablaze, piercing screams and a set list made for die-hards and casual fans alike. When Judas Priest announced their farewell tour in 2011, many assumed it was because they couldn't imagine anyone being able to maintain their discipline and intensity into their sixties, especially in the metal genre. Fortunately, Judas Priest has been able to endure and their current tour is a testament to their staying power. Here the six reasons why Judas Priest is still one of the most primal live bands on the planet.
1) Firepower Material
The band released their eighteenth studio album in 2018 and it was their most powerful statement since 1990's Painkiller. The band worked with producer Andy Sneap, who also joined the band on tour when founding guitarist Glenn Tipton had to take on a more limited role due to his Parkinson's diagnosis. Firepower hits the listener with a blunt force which is uncharted territory in the world of heavy music with key members approaching 70-years-old. Firepower captures the listener's imagination the same way many of their classic albums did with righteous melodies, lean rhythm and svelte guitars that channel the band's most important works. "Necromancer" commenced the torrid set as the band channeled cold fury through their instruments while "Spectre" and "Traitor's Gate" demanded the audience's attention. "No Surrender" unfurled like a stone cold classic with arms-to-the-air chorus. For a band nearly fifty-years into their career, Firepower is a testament to not just their legacy but to the current line-up who are carrying the band's heritage on their shoulders.
2) The Rhythm Section of Ian Hill and Scott Travis
Judas Priest may be best identified by their charismatic lead singer and the melodic dueling guitars but make no mistake, the rhythm section creates the foundation for those six-strings and wailing vocals to succeed. Ian Hill, a founding and original member, spent most of the show out of the spotlight, but on "Spectre" he shuffled his shoulders back-and-forth in a determined fashion that perfectly accentuated Scott Travis behind the drum kit. Travis' time with Priest now stretches back more than thirty years which means he has more shows with the band than any other drummer. He's the engine that forges Priest forward, beautifully demonstrated with his galloping rhythm on "Steeler", and the cold fury he channeled during "The Sentinel". The rhythm section is unassuming but they hold the foundation of the band down while the others get the glory in their more manic and flashy solos.
3) Guitarists Andy Sneap and Richie Faulkner
For many longtime fans, watching the band without founding guitarists K.K. Downing or Glenn Tipton is sacrilegious, and while this is understandable, one can't emphasize enough what a revelation Richie Faulkner and Andy Sneap are in concert. Working in tandem with each other, their guitars delivered devilish licks in unison. They pulverized the audience with their razor edge riffs highlighted best on "The Sentinel", where they played off each other in spectacular fashion demonstrating that the core sound of Judas Priest is intact and every bit as blistering as it has ever been. Faulkner's solo on "(Take These) Chains" was full of drama as he went to the edge of the stage and let his six-string sing while on "Traitor's Gate" their flying V guitars unified into a six-string symphony that defines Judas Priest. I miss Downing and Tipton, but if there was ever a pair of guitarists who were going to replace them, I'm glad it's Faulkner and Sneap, especially when they shred away. Besides musical precision, they both bring a torrent of emotion and physicality to the stage keeping the crowd engaged and enraged.
4. A Set List Full of Deep Cuts
The set list was meticulously crafted by the band where they dug deep, especially for those who saw earlier portions of the tour. Twelve different albums were represented in the set, which received a complete overhaul from their 2018 performances. Judas Priest isn't a band who is going to modify the set night-after-night, but they are a band who are aware of their fans and their legacy. Highlights included "Heading Out to the Highway" which came early in the set, signaling the summer months ahead with its wind in your hair chorus. "Judas Rising" was menacing and molten, "Out in the Cold" gave the audience a double take as the Turbo era song was presented in a new and more foreboding light while "Victim of Changes" featured the crawl of spider web guitars which the crowd devoured. Staples like ""You've Got Another Thing Comin'" is being given a rest for this leg, but you never would have noticed because the set was unrelenting in its drive.
The band have always had a measured approach and while deeply rooted in the world of metal, they flirted with more popular music and even classic rock, but they have always been invested in the adrenaline rush that their earsplitting riffs provide. This isn't an easy thing to sell to the audience. The band will soon enter its sixth decade and they're playing to a disparate audience. Some pledged allegiance to the band in the seventies and other younger fans have come on board in recent years.
What's most impressive about the band was the inexorable vigor they brought to the stage. The show had no acoustic set, ballads or gentler middle section; instead Judas Priest went for the jugular for all of its 95-minutes. While the show possibly didn't cover every song in their catalog, it's hard to be disappointed as the band made a conscious choice to overhaul the set list for this spring and summer tour.
Judas Priest takes the audience as close to the flame as humanly possible without burning them. If you get a chance to watch Judas Priest you will lay witness to a invigorated band who delivers a not just a tour de force performance but whose musicianship is constantly firing on all cylinders.
6. The Metal God: Rob Halford
The "Metal God" is deserving of his nickname. If you had asked me when Rob Halford returned to Judas Priest in 2004 if he would still be performing as he approached seventy, I would not have believed it and yet he moves with purpose, sings with zealous passion and makes you believe every word. Balancing operatic bombast with intimacy, Halford performs like he's in a stadium. His life struggles aren't something he speaks about, but it's there in the songs, the way he moves and with every anguished howl he's sharing a piece of himself with the audience. Opening the show in a purple cloak, hat and skull cane, he emerged with a purpose to not just entertain but to work through those struggles fist-to-fist with the audience.
Whether it was the material on Firepower or a song from Sad Wings of Destiny, Halford can still pierce your psyche and your ear drums. He's every bit as passionate as any front man in the business. On the Sin After Sin cut "Starbreaker" he channeled his younger menacing self while on "Halls or Valhalla" the opening scream was as primal as any song in their storied catalog. As he prowled the stage, he brimmed with intensity, channeled rage, worked through his anger all the while reaching for salvation. When the final notes of "Living After Midnight" echoed out into the night, the 4,500 fans in the Rosemont Theatre began chanting "Priest, Priest, Priest" as Rob Halford stood there soaking it up and fueling the flames before he promised the crowd to be back again, which can't come soon enough for anyone who has witnessed them recently.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter