Note to bear admirers: go to legendary ’80s heavy metal concerts. Eye candy for days. I’ll get to that in a bit.
It was disappointing to drive into Nokia’s parking lot and see a sign that Whitesnake had canceled. As a former pseudo-metalhead of the ’80s (sans mullet), I was excited about this double bill. Whitesnake has some pop sensibilities to their rock while Judas Priest are simply titans in heavy metal but both are iconic. Fortunately, Judas Priest made up for the loss. And basically kicked everyone’s ass in the nearly full venue.
The crowd itself was raucous from beginning to end. Middle-aged men rocked in the parking lot to music blaring from their cars. Ladies who should reconsider leather pants and hair bleach loitered in the smoking area. The inside lobby was a sea of black t-shirts displaying the Priest and every other hard rock band out there. Men were drunk already off their plastic cup beers and ladies were making their dates buy them a shirt. The concert hadn’t even begun and it was already loud and rowdy.
Inside, drunk guys talked way too loud and played air drums to Black Sabbath playing over the P.A. But when the lights went down, the audience roared with masculine delight. The floor-to-ceiling drop curtain displaying the famous logo and razor blade dropped and there was the Priest. The venue went from zero to 60 in a flash as the band was already rocking before the scrim hit the floor. Lead singer Rob Halford (who is gay in case you’re wondering why this review is here) hunched over his microphone decked out in denim, studs, leather and his signature sunglasses. It was mysterious because he stood there for the longest time in the same position screeching out “Rapid Fire” but never moving. It was both annoying and cool.
Song after song, they pushed their British metal sound into everyone’s eardrums and the crowd happily let it in. Halford had the audience begging already by the third song, “Breaking the Law.” By the middle of the show during “Living After Midnight,” the drunk man sitting in front of us summed it up by slurring, “Nothing can fuck this night up!” It was true. The audience focused intently on Halford and gang, flashed their hand signals and were having the nostalgic time of their lives. Judas Priest was delivering a show with so much force and energy that they could power a small town. And if their music is passe or dated, the muscularity of Scott Travis’ drums and the racecar speed of K.K. Downing’s and Glenn Tipton’s dual guitar attack were solid and played with such vigor, that it could only sound fresh. Ian Hill’s bass kept right up with fast but consistent rhythm.
And Halford still has the voice. It may just sound like screeching and yelling but it is an art he still excels at. While metal today relies more on throaty grumbles and deep demonlike vocals, Halford sings all over the spectrum letting his voice go high with a banshee’s howl or low like a scary boogeyman. This tour celebrates the 30th anniversary of their landmark “British Steel,” but he still has able chops to pull these songs off despite some barely there grizzled notes that come with age.
Like I said before, the bear quotient was off the charts at this show. It was like TBRU exploded up in Nokia last night. Buzzed heads, long hairs, chubby, skinny, older, younger – it was a bear’s night for sure. Although I doubt most of them were heading to the Hidden Door for an after party. But I honestly bet some were.
The show was also kind of a social study that brought up a lot of questions. What do these rough and scary guys in the audience think of Halford being out? Would they kick my ass if I kissed my boyfriend? And, is that guy gay? But last night, it was a collective and happy energy that pervaded the venue like the lasers that shot out from the stage.