Verizon Theatre, Grand Prairie
Monday, July 13, 2015
Mull this fact for a minute: The 2010s mark Judas Priest’s fifth decade as a band. Of all the metal acts that rose to prominence during the 1970s, Judas Priest is one of the few to have stayed popular. Staying relevant in such a niche, hardbound subculture as heavy metal is tough to do, and very few have done it. Judas Priest is an exception.
Monday night at Verizon Theatre, Judas Priest played a set that largely stuck to their greatest hits, but they kept things fresh by playing with an energy that would exceed most bands half their age. Not content to ride the nostalgia circuit and play festivals rife with bloated, in-it-for-a-paycheck has-beens (I’m looking at you, Rocklahoma), they're currently touring in support of last year’s Redeemer of Souls, a return to form after the slightly overreaching grandiosity of 2008’s Nostradamus. Minus a few slight missteps in the late '80s and mid-'90s, the band has been consistently reliable both on record and on stage.
Rob Halford, vocalist and linchpin to the band’s creative and commercial success (if in doubt, listen to the band’s two mid-'90s albums that are without the singer), had the audience in the palm of his hand before he'd even sung a note. Unlike other still-active, legendary metal vocalists, Halford commands attention without demanding attention. This could be owed to a laid-back personality, but more than likely it’s because Halford’s voice does all the talking. His singing doesn’t show any ill-effects from decades of hard touring, and his voice is as powerful as ever.
Halford paced the stage in a calm, focused manner, content to let his bandmates carry the songs when his vocals weren’t at the forefront. His demeanor was one of a seasoned veteran, confident in his abilities. When Halford did let loose with a falsetto wail, it was without fail pitch-perfect and every bit as spine-tingling as those heard on classic albums like Screaming for Vengeance or Defenders of the Faith.
The most impressive part of the show was that none of Judas Priest's members has lost a step. Halford was visibly having a great time, leading the audience in chants and sing-alongs before, during and after songs. Longtime guitarist Glenn Tipton was smiling throughout the set, his nimble fingers and fluid playing style giving his solos a feeling of effortlessness and ease. And although bassist Ian Hill was tucked away into a corner of the stage for the set, he seemed perfectly content with that corner.
But it was the band’s newest member, lead guitarist Richie Faulkner, who really led the charge for the night. Almost 20 years the junior of the next-youngest member of Judas Priest, Faulkner was thrust into the spotlight and given the responsibility of replicating some of the band’s most iconic solos. Not only did he nail every one of them, he did so with a veteran’s sense of showmanship. At one point, in an almost Spinal Tap-esque display of bravado, he carried on a conversation with a few front-row audience members in the middle of a song. Not only was it mid-song, it was mid-riff, but it didn’t matter; Faulkner didn’t miss a note. He’s just that damn good.
Much in the spirit of his predecessor, former guitarist (and original member) K.K. Downing, Faulkner rolled out every trick in the flashy-guitarist’s playbook: He played over his head, with his teeth and on his knees, all with a wink and a nod to the audience. Oddly enough, Faulkner even looks very similar to Downing from a distance, fitting for someone who so deftly continues the band’s signature twin-guitar sound.
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A sense of playfulness was obvious throughout the band’s set. Halford and Faulkner were constantly joking with each other; at one point Halford, finishing a regiment of shadowboxing across the stage, gave Faulkner a mock punch to the face. Faulkner played along like they’d done the act a thousand times before, tossing his head back mid-riff before regaining his ever-present smirk. To put it simply, the band was loose — not in terms of hitting cues or staying on time, which they handled with the ease you’d expect from a band 40-plus years into its life. They were relaxed, comfortable and engaged with the audience, while at the same time perfectly content to take a second just to make each other laugh and entertain themselves.
Speaking of which, drummer Scott Travis had a penchant for flipping and catching his drum sticks — not between songs, but in the middle of his drum patterns. Over and over he’d flip the stick, catch it, and keep drumming as normal. With all the great players in the band and Travis being seated so far back from the stage, it seemed unlikely that most of the audience would notice his showmanship. Then again, if you were in Judas Priest and good enough to throw and catch your drum sticks without a missing a beat, would you do the same thing? Hell yeah you would — even if it was only to entertain yourself.