Many bands are referred to by other bands as “influential,” and usually these quoted bands point to a certain album that they view as setting the tone or providing the motivation for them also wanting to create a band in the first place. One such band mentioned consistently as a primary influence in the Metal community is Judas Priest (JP), and their 1980 album British Steel is perhaps the most venerated and revered by both musicians and fans alike (check out MER’s British Steel classic album review if you’re unfamiliar with this Metal gem). British Steel is considered by many to have marked the true definition of both the Heavy Metal movement and sound by incorporating razor-like cutting distortion within the guitar riffs and power chords, a thick, pounding rhythm section, and vocal aggressiveness and moxie that stretched way past conventional Rock ‘n’ Roll norms. The album presented a fresh and certainly “new” sound back in April 1980, and 29+ years later, British Steel still sounds as relevant and contemporary as ever; 2 characteristics of a truly timeless, classic piece of musical art.
Now having truly “done it all,” JP have decided to revisit the past and to tour North America in tribute to this Metal masterpiece, entitling this go around The British Steel Tour to celebrate its ensuing 30-year anniversary (word has it too that certain shows will be video-recorded for an eventual commemorative DVD release). Throughout this North American jaunt, JP will be touring with Whitesnake (another band you just may have heard of once or twice in the past) and newcomers Popevil. On this early summer evening, though, JP was flying solo, playing at the cozy and historic 2700-capacity Murat Theater (built in 1909) in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana (USA) … more or less a “live rehearsal” gig to get the kinks out before the “real” tour started a few days later.
There’s something to be said about a “small venue” stop by a major band … in the end, JP could’ve played at the Indianapolis outdoor theater and packed in 15,000 on this night, but instead decided to treat their most dedicated and diehard fans in a small-venue environment … and “true” fans indeed they were. Plenty of “uglies” could be found polluting the audience, weighted probably 95% male, and most old enough to own British Steel in CD, Vinyl, and Cassette Tape formats. You could tell the fans were a “unique” breed when deafening sing-a-long participation erupted to the pre-concert P.A. music (no lie)! Although coming through a bit muffled (as is painfully customary with P.A. warm-up music), Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” was certainly sung “… just like witches at black masses …” by essentially all in attendance at the top of their lungs. Certainly a phenomenon that had to get JP revved up and ready to deliver when prepping backstage.
Speaking of the stage, the pre-show view was screened by a floor-to-ceiling drop cloth veil depicting what appeared to be a British Steel Manufacturing Plant, replete with rusted heavy equipment, bellowing smoke, a clouded sky certain to be at least partially accountable for global warming, and eerie, ominous red lights offering barely enough light for even Freddie Kruger to navigate his nightmarish escapades. As the show was about to begin, a mechanical percussion sound resonated from the amplifiers, and a pretty cool green laser-created, muscle-taxed boilermaker was cast onto the veil, pounding away at some stationary (presumably) steel-based anvil in rhythmic fashion.
The screening was dropped in favor of pulsating lights to show the band members in place, instantaneously belting out the first eardrum-blowing power chords of “Rapid Fire.” The band was dressed in leather garb “similar” to what was worn during their original British Steel Tour 29 years ago, and looked extraordinarily motivated, energetic, and excited to be playing the entire British Steel album as “Part 1” of their concert set. It’s interesting, though, that the playing order of the album the band has chosen to follow doesn’t conform to the North American release version, which leads off with “Breaking The Law” and plays “Rapid Fire” as the 2nd track. Nonetheless, on this night, there couldn’t have been a better opener. As is often the case with 1st shows of any tour, there were a few sound snafus to work out (e.g., Tipton’s guitar wasn’t coming through with full force and the bass tones were too dominant), but to the Sound Crew's credit, all was smoothed over by the time the 2nd song on the docket was delivered, “Metal Gods.” Funny, but in an exclusive interview with Glenn Tipton conducted after the show, he admitted that the band wasn’t even aware that the North American version differed from the version released to the rest of the world until after this set was completed!
JP then cranked through customary tour favorite “Breaking The Law” and chomped through “Grinder” before settling into the melodic feel-good anthem “United,” a song that seemed to be played slightly off-time at several junctures, but was still very well-received by the crowd. “You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise,” a song that has been ignored by JP tour set lists for perhaps a good 28 years, was next up … arguably a bit out of place today compared to when its lyrics were first written by Rob Halford – at the age of 27. One can’t help but to wonder if Halford and the rest of JP feels at all “wiser” (now that they’re ranging in their upper 50’s) than they did back in 1980. Place your bets that they do. Regardless, this song was no less enthusiastically received by this audience.
British Steel’s timeless hit “Living After Midnight” was next on the docket, and the band enjoyed more than exuberant audience participation during the chorus. In the end, few songs written in “true” Metal style have ever had lyrics as catchy and instantly memorable as this landmark track … one of those songs that when performed live simply creates a rush of energy.
Next up was “The Rage,” another song similar to “You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise” that had to be dusted off a bit before being performed as part of this set. The result was the same, however, and the crowd loved every second of it. Last but not least, the close out song from British Steel, “Steeler,” took center stage, and perhaps was the song that K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton noticeably had the most fun with, especially the last 1/3rd of the song where they toyed with their brief solo interludes and guitar effects amid a persistent and driving power chord pattern.
At the end of “Steeler,” the rabid audience gave JP a rousing ovation that nearly caused a ceiling plaster avalanche, prompting Halford to announce with a relieved expression, “Well, we made it!” Then, after interacting with the crowd a bit, the band set the stage for “Part 2” of the show, which was a mix of other JP classics.
As those familiar with the British Steel album know, just about all of the songs were written in a very straight-forward, genius-ly simplistic fashion. Well, the theme of “Part 2” of the set by and large followed down the same path (meaning too Scott Travis was basically left unchallenged), and started with an inspired version of “The Ripper,” followed by the song "Prophecy" from 2008’s Nostradamus, the only song performed in support of their outstanding concept album. Rarely performed “Rock Hard, Ride Free” from Defenders Of The Faith was a surprise to many, but the vast majority of the audience showed their appreciation for this change-up by screaming out the chorus throughout the song along with the band.
Perennial concert favorite “Victim Of Changes” was up next (sans the repetitive Tipton quasi solo-riff played in recent tours), and Halford, who was in outstanding voice the entire evening, showed he was both unafraid and very able to belt out the extremely challenging high notes required by this JP staple.
The band took a short break (it had to be short – if it hadn’t, the ravenous crowd was apt to riot!), and the stage silence was soon broken by the unadulterated revved-up power of Halford’s strikingly handsome Harley Davidson, which made way for the highly energetic “Freewheel Burning,” amid an outstanding array of stage lights and lasers. The “electric” version of “Diamonds & Rust” was pounded out next by the band, and by this point, the front 3 seemed to be fully in tune and fostering a very intimate rapport with the ecstatic audience.
After an even shorter break, Halford nonchalantly re-entered the stage with an American Flag draped across his shoulders, grinning from ear-to-ear with appreciation for the energy this Indianapolis audience provided the band. The rest of the band wasn’t far behind, and soon broke into the final song to be performed on this evening, the mega-hit “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” again to the certain satisfaction of the crowd.
All in all, this stop was a complete success … the band worked out the 1st Show kinks and fed off the energy from a crowd that showed immense hunger for JP’s menu of Metal in a fashion not to be taken for granted. The band had a noticeable extra hop in their collective step, and Halford, with his command of the stage, seemed to have a rejuvenated level of energy … and seemed to genuinely be having fun during this performance. Perhaps revisiting and playing from start to finish the pivotal British Steel album was just what the doctor ordered for all members of the band … a proverbial “Fountain Of Youth,” so to speak. Perhaps too the strength behind the audience’s appreciation demonstrated towards the band caught them off guard a bit (in a very positive way), and provided a jolt of adrenaline that caused the band to take their performances to an even higher level. Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is JP delivered the goods on this Monday evening … and, if anything, left the audience wanting much much more than just a 90-minute set. Truth be told, with no opening act on the ticket, JP could’ve/should’ve expanded the set list a bit by say another 3 - 5 songs. After all, a number of albums in their library were ignored in their setlist, including Stained Class, Hell Bent For Leather, Point Of Entry, Turbo, Ram It Down, and their comeback album Angel Of Retribution. The fans probably indeed did deserve “more” … but what they got was truly a once-in-a-lifetime treat … an outstanding tribute performance of the entire British Steel album – a true classic performed by a bunch of blokes who have without a doubt created a timeless, monumental Metal masterpiece … and seem to be unfamiliar with the meaning of the word “quit.”
Long Live The Priest!!! Amen …
Breaking The Law
You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise
Livin’ After Midnight
Rock Hard Ride Free
Victim Of Changes
Diamonds & Rust
You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’
For more information about the band, along with updated British Steel Tour 2009 information, go to JudasPriest.com.
To see the full photo gallery of the show, click here!
Photographs taken by Nicolaus M. Furiak ...