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By James Villa
Very seldom can I say no to road trips, especially if concerts are involved. There’s something exhilarating about getting out on the road to go see a band, explore a city different from your own, and set foot inside a venue that’s completely new to you.So, when the opportunity to head down to Austin for the day (well, technically Cedar Park, which is just half an hour or so north of the Texas capitol), I couldn’t resist. Even more appealing was the fact that Judas Priest was the band in question, bringing their Redeemer of Souls Tour to the Cedar Park Center; and after seeing them twice within a month last fall (at a festival in Kentucky and then in the Dallas area), I was eager for another helping of Priest.
The red dirt metalers known as Texas Hippie Coalition got things going, playing to a decent sized crowd as the patrons continued to trickle in. The band was clearly excited about this, one of a handful of dates they’re playing with Judas Priest; and even though they mine a completely different style of metal, everyone was loving it, sufficiently getting warmed up for the Priest.
As soon as they finished, a banner dropped, covering the entire stage. It bore the headliners name. As that happened, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” began blasting through the PA system, a song that would be repeated moments before the band took the stage.
It was 9:28, and after the banner dropped, Scott Travis was seen flicking his drumsticks into the air, flipping and catching them as they exploded into “Dragonaut”. The song evokes such a strong classic metal/Priest sound, it’s almost easy to forget it comes from last year’s Redeemer of Souls; and guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner as well as bassist Ian Hill were quick to set to work dishing out lick after lick as Rob Halford emerged from the wings.
They crushed it, the 8,500-capacity venue now teeming with life as the fans thrust their hands in the air, pumping their fists along to the music; while the video boards at the back of the stage showed a wicked looking dragon, the likes of which could cause the one in The Hobbit to tuck tail and run.
The guitar solos were slick and abundant during that one, continuing for the rest of the night, like as they rolled right into “Metal Gods”; the visuals switching to endless rows of faceless beings marching in formation. “Austin, Texas! The Priest is back!” said Halford upon finishing that one. He addressed everyone only periodically this night, keeping any conversation short, though it was more than enough to further excite the thousands of people.
“Are you ready for some Judas Priest style metal?” he asked before they jumped back in time to 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance with “Devil’s Child”. Halford was nailing the notes as if he himself were thirty plus years younger, wailing on those high parts, hitting them as if they were the easiest thing on earth. I think the entire room was in awe of it. The frontman only continued reaching new heights as the show progressed; and as that tune wrapped up, he was seen balancing on one foot before retreating backstage.
Tipton and Faulkner got the spotlight as they stood side by side, practically the lone figures on stage to begin “Victim of Changes”. Afterwards, the three longest standing instrumentalist had the stage to themselves as they fired up a newer jam. “You’ve got to be kidding!” I heard the people sitting behind me say (well, by this point most everyone who had a seat was on their feet), blown away by the fact they were playing that previous one and “Halls of Valhalla” back to back. You’ve got to stop and think about that. That’s pretty cool that an audience that was predominantly 40-somethings on up is smitten by the fact that they play a classic and a brand new song right together like that. I won’t name names, but I know I’ve seen some other rock legends and hear fans talking amongst themselves that they hope they don’t play any new material, considering it lackluster. Yet here are the Priest fans, rejoicing in it, because they’ve kept the formula true.
Of course, they know what fans want to hear most, though. Classics like the sensuous “Love Bites” had fans singing every last word; while “Turbo Lover” found the audience again thrusting their hands/horns in the air, as Faulkner knelt down and proceeded to shred on that one, Halford standing next to him, watching for a moment.
The singer thanked the crowd for their seemingly undying support, which he noted has been going on for decades now; and after the title track from their newest album, he again spoke, this time saying how they had tried to keep their sound pure, being blunt and stating he felt they had. It’s not like that’s lie. That said they took things back to Stained Glass, doing what the singer called a “beautiful heavy metal balled” known as “Beyond the Realms of Death”. For many, the rarer song was a definitive highlight of the night.
“Jawbreaker” also appeased many; and after racing through “Breaking the Law”, Halford disappeared before riding out on his chopper, sitting atop it for all of “Hell Bent for Leather”, which brought their 69-minute long set to a close.
The applause was deafening as the band took their bows, expressing their own gratitude to everyone who had ventured out, before they disappeared from underneath the spotlights.
They weren’t gone long, though. This performance would include not one, but two encores, each consisting of two songs apiece. “Electric Eye” and “You’ve got Another Thing Coming” made up the first one, and honestly, that could have been enough, even if the crowd was screaming for more. They did soon have that wish fulfilled, with “Painkiller” and “Living After Midnight” rounding out the night.
Third time’s a charm. I don’t want to sound cliché, but really, it was. Out of the now three times I’ve seen Judas Priest live, this one stands as my absolute favorite. Those previous two shows, Halford appeared as if the road had been wearing on him. By no means was he lacking then, though this night, he appeared completely rejuvenated. All eyes seemed to focus on him more often than not; and that voice, man. He must have taken spectacular care of it all of these years, and it shows.
The entire band dominates. Travis was positioned on a riser tall enough that makes it look like it’s a throne, being visible to all, with Hall standing not too far from it, helping round out the mighty backbone of their songs. Tipton is a maestro on the axe; and Faulkner is a livewire, constantly moving around the place, pointing at and making eye contact with people in the crowd… It’s all just so much fun!
All these years later, they can still appeal to all ages. There was one young kid I saw while I was walking to where my seat was. He was maybe six or seven and already sporting a Redeemer of Souls Tour shirt. That’s because great music never fades nor does it know any bounds. Judas Priest has plenty of songs of such quality in their catalog, and this night proved it.
(Black Sabbath song)
Victim of Changes
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 Comin’
Living After Midnight
Beginning of the End
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