Culture

Judas Priest Across America Caps 40-Year Run as Metal Icons

Rob Halford of Judas Priest during the Firepower Tour. (Photo by Daniel DeSlover/Sipa USA via AP Images)

For what might very possibly be the last time, iconic British metal band Judas Priest is rolling across the United States, touring in support of their latest album, Firepower. On Tuesday, April 17, they rolled through Portland. I procrastinated about going to the show, but ultimately, as a fan dating from the earliest days, I was duty-bound to attend.

Let’s face it, the prospect of leaving the comforts of home at age 66 to negotiate the ordeal of an arena-sized metal concert can be daunting. I’ve already seen Priest too many times to remember, and at every juncture of their decades-spanning run as one of heavy metal’s finest.

The night of the show was cold and showery. The venue was Memorial Coliseum, remodeled and designated historic, but nonetheless a sad sister to the newer Moda Center next door The Priest concert coincided with a Trail Blazer playoff game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Moda, so I knew that traffic in the area would be a monumental cluster. I was right.

I hadn’t bought a ticket in advance, and they were going fast. I didn’t even know if I’d get in.

As I forked over the $27 parking fee to get within striking distance of the arena complex, I kept reminding myself that (lead vocalist) Rob Halford is exactly your age and look what he’s doing tonight. Pay the damn parking fee, get in line, and stop whining. Instead of the reefer I would typically secret into an inside pocket, I’d brought along two Advil gel-caps and a roll of Tums for the inevitable post-spicy dog acid reflux. For another $106, I purchased a decent seat on the second level.

Upon arrival, I noticed how the demographic spread of concertgoers reflected the band’s longevity: Goth-teens sprung from suburbanite Beaverton had purchased their tickets in advance. Portlandia hipsters had also anticipated Priest’s show, smart enough to know that something big, and ending, was blowing through town. Smatterings of merchandise-bedecked Gen-X parents came with charmingly behaved school-age children in tow. Especially resonant on a personal note were the middle-aged, middle management types, who’d apparently come straight from the office in khakis and beige windbreakers, who drank too much beer and risked tumbling down the ancient flights of stairs.

I’d gathered from press reports that only two members of the original Priest lineup would perform that night—Halford and bassist Ian Hill. Original dual-threat rhythm/ lead guitarist K.K. Downing left the band in 2011 amid internecine squabbles, and drummer Dave Holland, who laid the tracks on some of Priest’s most stellar recordings, left for health and family reasons in 1989.

Then, just this past February, lead guitarist Glenn Tipton had disclosed the progression of his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, a medical setback that precluded his ability to participate in the group’s grueling tour schedule and perform their more complex material. (More on Tipton later.)

Once the show got underway, it was clear that the youth movement keeping Priest on the road is up to the task. Downing replacement Richie Faulkner, drummer Scott Travis, and Tipton replacement Andy Sneap did justice to the band’s thunderous oeuvre, rocking through deep tracks like “Grinder” and shifting into overdrive for “Freewheel Burning.”

Here’s the official video for “Lightning Strike” from Firepower:

Halford, resplendent in variations on flat-black leather and flowing gold and silver robes, sounded as strong and good as the day almost 40 years ago when he and his Birmingham, England, mates recorded one of the bands signature numbers, “Breaking the Law.”

One highlight was a brooding rendition of “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll,” an anthem for Trumpservative headbangers if there ever was one.  My only regret upon hearing Priest’s musical admonition live for the last time is that not as many Deep State actors have ascended the guillotine’s scaffold as I’d hoped.

From the career pinnacle, the Defenders of the Faith era, “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll:

As the show wound to its conclusion, the lights went down, and through parted curtains came 70-year-old Glenn Tipton, original lead guitarist and creator of the memorable lead-break on mega-hit “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin.’”

Tipton—greeted with a heartfelt standing ovation–accompanied the band through a three-song encore: “Living After Midnight,” the aforementioned “Breaking the Law,” and “Metal Gods,” the punishing rocker from the British Steel that put Priest on the map with the forefathers of metal, Black Sabbath.

This imperfect cell phone clip (with Tipton) takes you there:

Take away the concert swagger, the bombast, the pyrotechnics, the lasers, the theatrical smoke and fog, and the T-shirts–and you’ve got the exalted core of what makes this genre endure: the music.

On second thought, don’t take any of those things away. They’re part of a really big show. It’s not too late—get there. Go.