Judas Priest Roll With the Changes at New York ‘Firepower’ Show
One of Judas Priest's greatest songs is "Victim of Changes," from their 1976 album, Sad Wings of Destiny. But the band is anything but a victim of changes: they've proven that again and again, over the decades. They've endured a revolving door of drummers, they've withstood cultural and industry changes, they even survived singer Rob Halford's decade-plus-self-imposed exile in the '90s. No matter what "changes" presented themselves, Priest steamrolled through them.
And despite one very dramatic and very recent change -- namely guitarist Glenn Tipton leaving the band due to his battle with Parkinson's disease -- last night's (March 17) show at New York's Nassau Coliseum saw the band in extremely powerful form, as they barreled through a nearly two-hour set that spanned most of their career.
For fans who haven't kept track of the band in recent years, seeing Priest without the iconic and game-changing guitar team of K.K. Downing and Tipton might be jarring, and even upsetting. But don't worry: the younger musicians who now wield the axes honor their predecessors and give a shot of new energy the group.
Richie Faulkner joined in 2011 and has played two studio albums, including Firepower, which was released a little over a week ago. Priest fans warmly accepted him into the fold; the reception to him is comparable to how Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks were regarded by Allman Brothers Band fans; he's more than a replacement, he's an essential reason why the band still thrive. His playing and stage presence are both undeniable. With the absence of Tipton, he's singer Rob Halford's main on-stage foil.
Guitarist Andy Sneap, who co-produced Firepower, has a much more difficult job: first, he had to learn a nineteen song set within weeks, and be able to fit into a legendary band. The man deserves credit: he took an extremely high-pressure gig and pulled it off. He wasn't just a "backing musician": he traded leads with Faulkner throughout the night. He doesn't have Faulkner's stage presence, but then, it was just his third show with an iconic band, one that he wasn't even a member of three months ago. Watching him last night, there was no real giveaway that he was new... or even that he was nervous.
Sneap also deserves praise for his work on Firepower, which provided three songs to the setlist: the title track, which opened the show, "Evil Never Dies" and the instant classic "Lightning Strike." It's always dicey for a band with four decades of history to introduce new songs (particularly when the new album is just eight days old), but the audience members were - *cough* - defenders of the faith, and were definitely glad to hear Priest's latest offerings.
"Firepower" kicked off the show; fans lept to their feet and stayed there throughout the night (although some sat down for the relatively mellow "Angel" from 2005's Angel of Retribution). "Evil Never Dies" went over well also, but it was "Lightning Strike" which got the best reaction -- to be fair, it was the first single and has been out for two months. On the other hand, it felt like a classic from the moment it was released, and the audience's response to it makes it a sure bet to stay in the setlist for a long time to come.
Guitarists and setlist aside, what most people want to know about Judas Priest is, how does Rob Halford sound? He can't do exactly what he could do three decades ago... and most likely, neither can you. Here's what he does do: he commands the stage like few other performers can and he sings with power that vocalists one third his age will never have. He also looks badass and stylish; in fact, switched jackets eight times throughout the night.
Let's take a moment here to give props to the band's unsung rhythm section: Ian Hill on bass and Scott Travis, the band's drummer since 1989. They're not as flashy as some of their metal peers, but they hold down the backbone of the band, allowing Halford and the guitar team to shine.
A surprisingly sweet and poignant moment was during -- of all songs -- "Painkiller." As Faulkner played the solo, footage of Tipton playing it years earlier flashed on the video screen. Halford didn't speak much in between songs, but that video said all that needed to be said about his bandmate.
That was one of the highlights -- others included "Running Wild," "Sinner," "The Ripper," "Saints in Hell" and of course, the expected "Hell Bent for Leather" (complete with Halford riding onstage on his motorcycle), "Breaking the Law," "You've Got Another Thing Coming" and "Living After Midnight."
Of course, there are forty or so other songs that we all would have loved to have heard. In this writer's case, "Victim of Changes" is as great as any of the hits. But maybe that song simply doesn't fit in with this tour: as they've done throughout their career, Judas Priest have transcended their circumstances.