When you have the chance to see a truly iconic band play live, there’s a lot of wiggle room, enjoyment-wise. If the performance is great, it’s an unmatched thrill. If it's so-so, just seeing the band members in person can cover a multitude of sins. Even if the show is downright SAD — well — who doesn't love an opportunity to deliver a smug "they suck live"?
In the case of Judas Priest, the needle to the Rock-O-Meter hovered closest to the thrilling side.
After we got through the opening act, that is.
The genius of a band like Steel Panther is that they establish full deniability from the get-go. Do you think their songs are boring —if, admittedly, well executed — rip-offs? Duh, they’re supposed to be! Do you find their lyrics to be vilely misogynistic? Chill out, they’re just making fun of OTHER bands with sexist lyrics. As someone with a sense of humor and a soft spot for bands like Motley Crue and Ratt, I’ve devoted a generous amount of time to "giving Steel Panther a chance," but it comes down to this: if you’re going to make me listen to lines like, “Smells like sushi” in a song called “Asian Hooker,” the joke had better have more than one note. It's not easy to successfully lampoon a genre that is ridiculous enough on its own, and with a little more nuance and a little more heart, Steel Panther could be pretty great. But as my +1 observed, “you don’t get the impression that these guys AREN’T actually like this.”
On the other hand, it takes a band like Steel Panther to make a band like Judas Priest look subtle. Though Halford’s voice sounds great on their new record, I couldn’t help but brace myself for those first few high notes (particularly on the Broadway-worthy “Victim of Changes”). He did not disappoint. Kicking things off with Redeemer of Souls album opener, “Dragonaut,” Halford wore his famous leather and chains, but soon switched to an ever-changing series of shiny, lightweight smoking jackets. This seemed sensible, considering his recent recovery from a back injury which, as he told The Guardian, may have had something to do with taking the stage, night after night, “wearing literally 30 pounds of leather and steel spikes.”
The set was pretty evenly split between old hits (“Love Bites” and “Devil’s Child” were particularly fun) and new songs, which are generally good enough to sound at home amongst the classics. New guitarist, 34 year old Richie Faulkner, looked and sounded like he'd been a part of the band from birth. For “Hell Bent For Leather,” Halford came out on a motorcycle — a move that was winking as much as it was badass: Halford is nothing if not self-aware and good-humored. I must, however, take issue with the video projections that dominated the first half of the show, most of which looked like they were lifted directly from glitchy, old Xbox games. Fellas, you've been a band for almost 40 years. Surely you must have the resources to enlist someone with hipper (or at least less confusing) design sense?
The set was the perfect length — satisfying, but short enough that the crowd was still energetic for the encore of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin,'” “Living After Midnight” and “Defenders of the Faith.” The audience wasn’t particularly rowdy, but many seemed to grow bolder during those last couple songs, attempting to cross barriers and move into closer, undesignated seating areas. The guards couldn’t have been too surprised. What else would you expect from fans of “Breaking the Law”?