Judas Priest Hauls Out the 'Firepower' for Its Tour-Closing Show in San Antonio

click to enlarge They may be down two key members, but Judas Priest worked hard last night to maintain their status as "Metal Gods." - PHOTO BY SANFORD NOWLIN
Photo by Sanford Nowlin
They may be down two key members, but Judas Priest worked hard last night to maintain their status as "Metal Gods."
It might be easy to write off Judas Priest as just another classic rock also-ran. Especially now that it's touring without Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, whose twin lead guitars didn't just help define Priest but the metal genre itself.

But the band that ripped up Freeman Coliseum last night for the closing show of its "Firepower" tour isn't ready for the state fairs-and-casinos circuit. Not yet, anyway.

The scorching two-hour set included all the requisite hits, from the silly but undeniably catchy "Turbo Lover" to the anthemic closer "Living After Midnight." But where Priest caught fucking fire was a barrage of tunes from its classic '70s albums that created the blueprint for modern metal. "Saints in Hell" from 1978's Stained Class was an easy highlight — a tempo-shifting epic the band had never played live before this tour. Later, it dusted off "Tyrant," a 1976 riff monster that singer Rob Halford said the band was only performing for the San Antonio show.

And how about that Halford? For a guy on the downside of his 60s, he had no trouble hitting the high notes of yore as he stalked the stage (not always the case on some of the band's 2000-era tours). His stamina was especially evident during "Painkiller," a relentless six-minute thrasher with a shrieking chorus.

While guitarists Richie Faulkner and Andy Sneap may not have written the riffs they played, they proved adept interpreters. Mugging for the crowd, jumping onto a side-stage platform for sweeping solos, Faulkner provided a second visual anchor for the band. Sneap — drafted to replace Tipton after Parkinson's disease kept him from touring — ably mimicked the retired guitarist's bluesy, melodic soloing style.

Tipton actually rejoined Priest for its three-song encore, prompting a lengthy welcome of cheers and raised devil horns. His solo on "Metal Gods" put to rest any question whether illness has claimed his skills.

Although JP were the stars of the night, the two other outfits on the tour worked hard to match the energy.

Saxon is best known for its early '80s output, but the band's charging 13-song set did more than recycle the hits. Strong new material made up roughly half the playlist. And when Biff Byford and crew delved into the back catalog, they interspersed anthems like "Wheels of Steel" and "Denim and Leather" with deeper cuts like a powerful and chugging "Dallas 1 P.M."

Opener Black Star Riders featured former Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham, and their sound harkened back to Lizzy's folk-inflected hard rock without delivering a paint-by-numbers retread.

Can Priest remain a vital recording force with Tipton out of the touring lineup? Existentially, is a band with Halford and bassist Ian Hill as the only original members still Priest?

Relevant questions. And ones Priest didn't delve into from the stage last night. The latest incarnation of the band seemed content to let the music deliver the message that it's still a powerful and entertaining live act.

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