Story and Photos by Scott Smith
Metal mania erupted with multi-colored lasers, spinning lights, a roaring Harley Davidson motorcycle and jet-black leather during Judas Priest’s concert on Oct. 16 in Allen Texas, near Dallas.
Original members Rob Halford (vocals), Glenn Tipton (guitar) and Ian Hill (bass) were flanked by long-time drummer Scott Travis and newcomer Richie Faulkner (guitar) at the Allen Event Center for a 2-hour, 15-minute high-decibel extravaganza that ran through Judas Priest’s rich, ear-splitting back catalog.
The show was part of Priest’s lengthy, final world tour, which has been dubbed the "Epitaph Tour," and features Faulkner’s first trek with Priest as the replacement for original member K.K. Downing; Downing retired from the band last November.
Priest fans who fear that Downing’s absence will leave a gaping hole in the British band’s sound need not sweat. Faulkner’s fast, sometimes-furious playing blended seamlessly with Tipton’s weaving, dynamic playing in Allen, giving the all-ages crowd that gritty-yet-melodic twin-guitar attack. When Tipton and Faulkner started the beloved, pioneering metal classic "Victim of Changes," countless cheers echoed throughout the darkened arena.
With microphone in hand, Halford seemed to be more animated than he was in "Rising in the East," the still-good concert film from 2005. For the set-opener "Rapid Fire," the man with the multi-octave singing voice emerged covered in black leather and sharp, metal spikes, and when Priest dug deep for possibly the greatest version ever of 1981’s rebel anthem, "Heading Out to the Highway," Halford slung on a jean-jacket vest and gave 100 percent for the crowd.
Green, purple, pink and blue lasers soared over the heads of nearly 4,000 fans of all ages numerous times throughout the fist-pumping set, which included "Electric Eye," "Metal Gods," "Starbreaker," "Judas Rising," "The Green Manalishi with the Two Pronged Crown," "Painkiller," "Prophecy," "Turbo Lover," "Beyond the Realms of Death," "The Sentinel," "Blood Red Skies," "Never Satisfied," "You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’" and a crowd-led take of "Breaking the Law." A touching reading of Joan Baez’s "Diamonds of Rust" began life on the Allen stage as a soothing, acoustic number before launching into the familiar rock entity heard on Priest’s 1979 concert LP, "Unleashed in the East."
Halford spoke briefly in between songs, marveling at how fast the decades have flown since Priest’s formation way back in 1969, and he later announced the beginning of "Hell Bent for Leather" by riding a Harley across the stage.
Although his feet only moved to push the occasional bass pedal, Ian Hill laid down thick, delicious bass-guitar lines which cut through Travis’s bass-drum work and the lower notes of Tipton and Faulkner’s guitars. Travis seemed at ease without losing steam on the drum throne, sounding even stronger than on past tours and keeping the double-bass drum patterns, thankfully, to a minimum.
Also flexing toned muscles were openers Thin Lizzy and Black Label Society, with BLS leader Zakk Wylde going ape on his guitar. Lizzy fans definitely missed the late Phil Lynott (vocals/bass) and the late Gary Moore (guitar), but original drummer Brian Downey and long-time guitarist Scott Gorham kept things moving at an inspired, captivating pace. Gorham alternated between wailing lead solos and harmonious breaks while Downey pounded out the hard-rock shuffle of "The Boys Are Back in Town" and the thumping rhythms of "Jailbreak," "Cowboy Song," "Rosaliee" and "Black Rose." Keyboardist Darren Wharton, who toured with Lizzy when Lynott was alive back in the early 1980s, stood at stage left to play mid-range keyboard parts, while singer-guitarist Ricky Warwick, guitarist Damon Johnson (ex-Alice Cooper) and former Whitesnake bassist Marco Mendoza gave solid, punchy support.
Tipton has said the current tour will be the last time Priest stomps across the globe for 18 months at a time, although the band will be open to the occasional string of dates later. But the way Tipton buddy-tapped Faulkner’s shoulder at the end of "Heading Out to the Highway" before the two grinned at each other in Allen almost revealed a band rethinking its retirement plan and being more open to additional big-arena tours.