Review by Justin Burkhardt, photos by Kyle Taylor
Heavy metal greats Judas Priest rocked the PP&L Center on Wednesday night bringing their “Redeemer of Souls” tour to Allentown and proved even in their old age, they still rock harder than most. The third concert at the new PP&L center (Cher rescheduled due to health reasons and Rascal Flatts canceled) was a smaller crowd (about 1/3 of the arena was curtained off and the rest of the arena was half-full at best) but a very enthusiastic one. But those who were in attendance to see Priest definitely should have left the concert feeling they got their money’s worth.
Lead singer Rob Halford paced himself early but he remained active during the whole show and his voice remained strong through the hour and a half set. And let’s talk about that voice, which is an instrument in itself. Halford’s pipes, even at age 63, are still better than most and his vocal range was very impressive. The band has been around since 1969 and while they have three members over the age of 60, they play just as hard if not harder than those half their age. Their youngest member, guitarist Richie Faulkner, joined the band in 2011 and is a perfect addition as he provides just enough of a young spark but also is quite an incredible metal guitarist as he showed off throughout the night, including a nice little solo.
The set list was a great mix of classics such as “Breaking the Law”, “Love Bites”, “Victims of Changes”, and “Hell Bent for Leather” and new hits from their Redeemer of Souls album released in July. The album hit #6 on the Billboard charts and is the band’s first top 10 album debut in the US, and for good reason as it sounds like classic Priest and is their best album in a long time. My favorite tracks from the new album that they played live were “Dragonaut” and “Halls of Valhalla” which had a classic metal mythological feel to them. The band saved their “best” for last performing “Breaking the Law” and “Hell Bent for Leather” right before the encore which included “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”, “Living After Midnight”, and “Defenders of the Faith”.
The best part of the show was easily Halford’s incredible voice (with Faulkner’s guitar playing coming in second). Heavy metal singers simply don’t get enough respect musically. Even the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame snubs metal for the most part. That being said, Judas Priest is easily Rock Hall material and anyone who continues to snub them should be ashamed to call themselves music fans as Halford’s voice and talent are undeniable.
I also never realized how entertaining Priests’ show was going to be visually. Halford had nearly ten costume changes, all of which included various subtle (and not so subtle) changes to his signature S&M leather, chains, and spike look. Towards the end of the show he even brought out his motorcycle while wearing a leather hat and carrying a whip. The band turned on a disco ball that shone throughout the whole arena during a ballad. The visuals on screen behind the band were also on point all night long and included dragons, lightning, fire, and other themes. With Halloween coming up, “Love Bites” had clips of Nosferatu and “March of the Damned” featured zombie images. The sound was very loud but crisp and it was overall a very well-produced concert.
Steel Panther, a band that is a cross between a less-funny Spinal Tap and every hair metal band from the 80’s, were the night’s opening act. Some of Panther’s songs included themes such as anonymous oral sex at a gloryhole, being pussywhipped, Tiger Wood’s promiscuity, and death to all but heavy metal music. The band talked to and joked around with the crowd just as much, if not more than, they played music. The band at one point asked the crowd who else is sick of pop music like Justin Bieber, following up with, “Who would like to see him kicked in the balls?” Another music reporter, Morning Call’s John J. Moser, loved this so much that he raised his hand signaling that yes he’s sick of Bieber and would like to see him kicked in the balls. Clearly Moser was a fan of Panther’s shtick but not many other people were as the crowd didn’t receive them very well. Sure they are parody and I think the crowd was smart enough to get that, but they just weren’t very good.
I didn’t like that they did so much talking in ratio to how much they played, because musically they do have talent. However their shtick quickly grew old on because one can only handle so many misogynistic, sexist, and gay jokes at once, even in parody. Music parody done well (Weird Al, Spinal Tap) can be a really good thing, but my message to Steel Panther would be less talking and let your musical talent & lyrics speak for themselves.
Judas Priest is one the greatest metal bands ever (or even the greatest, depending on who you ask) in terms of importance to the genre, talent, and stage show, so it was a bit of a shame to me that more heavy metal fans in the Lehigh Valley didn’t come out to support them. This was my first heavy metal concert and I’m not sure I could have picked a better one. They’ve definitely got at least one new fan after their stop in the Valley.