JUDAS PRIEST / SAXON / BLACK STAR RIDERS – British Royalty Takes Over Ottawa!
March 28, 2018, a year ago
NWOBHM legends kicked our nation’s capitol’s ass on this great Sunday night (March 25th), as Judas Priest’s Firepower tour was stopping by Ottawa in a close-to sold out TD Place. Halford, Half-Priest - without Tipton now, the Judas flames alive and still strong.
A multi-generation crowd is slowly crawling into the venue, from die-hard young metal-heads to ÇÊI was their nostalgics, coming from all around. A quick look at the merch table is enough to confirm the awful standardization of 50 bucks for a regular t-shirt. Add a couple of 12 dollar Bud-Waters and you’re already close to the price of a ticket, while salaries and merch printing costs haven't risen as fast.
Black Star Rider is in charge of the opening, unfortunately with a mediocre sound, a too loud bass and three guitars whose frequencies aren’t good friends. While there’s some great playing out there and the chance to watch original Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham, there’s definitely a je-ne-sais-quoi missing to keep the attention. Despite TL classic “Jailbreak” and a few dual leads here and there, a few Irish touches, BSR struggles through its ‘70s vibe to avoid a generic modern hard rock sound. A bit disappointing.
But this tour wouldn’t be as badass without the presence of another NWOBHM legend still alive, the greater Saxon. 67 year old Biff Byford still shows no signs of aging while head banging, moving around, and singing with an astonishing power and glory. Kicking in with new albums title track Thunderbolt, with excellent quality guitar sounds and glorious leads from Paul Quinn and Doug Scarrat. Followed by classic anthem “Power And The Glory”, Saxon plays fast and loud with a remarkable energy as always. Paying tribute to Motorhead and their 1979 tour with recent “And They Played Rock ‘n’ Roll”, exploring another new song, “Nosferatu”, and then coming back to a straight charge of classic songs including the powerful “Motorcycle Man”, the riff master “Princess Of The Night”, the epic “747 Strangers In The Night” and freeway metal rider “Wheels Of Steel”. In an apparent recent tradition on last tours, Biff borrows a denim jacket from a fan during “Denim And Leather”, without forgetting to sign it before throwing it back. And the band nailed the end with “Heavy Metal Thunder”. A superb performance, once again.
As the venue is now packed and everybody is finally standing up (how can you watch Saxon sitting in a chair?), it’s time for a grand moment of heavy metal. The huge backdrop falls and the Firepower explodes with the new album title track. The stage set-up is simple and perfectly ‘80s inspired, shining with a great light show. How’s that 2018’ Jud-half Priest? Kicking ass despite the absence of both original guitarists. If Richie Faulkner is now home and killing it on the Flying V, Andy Sneap is still a bit stiff and staring at his Explorer. But considering the few little weeks he had to learn a two-hour Priest setlist and filling in for a musician like Glenn Tipton, that’s still a great performance. Ian Hill stands as the most solid rock of the band, doing the same moves in the same spot of the stage for nearly 50 years.
But what would it be without the silver-leather-shining heavy metal eagle-screaming icon Rob Halford. Constantly walking around the stage like an unstoppable war machine, changing jackets every two songs, the sixty-six year old singer doesn’t need to force anything, as his mesmerizing presence instantly conquers the heavy metal maniacs out there. In the year 2018, who still drives a Harley-Davidson on a music stage anymore? Rob fucking Halford. Nevermind the age, there’s something incredibly strong and savage coming out of this human being when he screams and this unique voice fill the sonic space around us.
And great set-list it is on this tour. After a riming debut throwing “Grinder”-“Sinner”-“The Ripper” back to back, the Priest comes back to its latest and acclaimed album with single “Lightning Strike”. Huge sound, huge riffs, incredible power. I’m almost shivering at “Bloodstone” intro and its melodic arpeggios flashback me on the floor of my parent’s living room as a young teenager watching again and again a 1982 Live Vengeance VHS found in the basement. Never one day had I thought I could see this in concert, even if Glenn is missed. He’ll appear sometimes on the screen playing archives videos.
Staying mid-tempo and old school with Turbo Lover, Fleetwood Mac’s “Green Manalishi” or “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”, the Priest is rocking the room with a brilliant performance. Then getting rid of over-played-and-listened-but-still-classic “Breaking The Law”, to raise all fists in the air singing “Hellbent For Leather”.
Then another but different classic, the power machine “Painkiller” and one of the most famous drum intros of all time. Maybe this one is a bit fast and intense for the 2018 Priest, and Rob seems to struggle a bit in this never ending full power singing. But hey, I’d like to see you doing this at 66.
It’s already time for the encore, time flies at the speed of Scott Travis’ double bass. When aliens will explore our stupidly destroyed planet in a few millenniums and learn the history of our civilization, the song to illustrate heavy metal music could probably be “Electric Eye”, and its absolute chef oeuvre riff. Splendid, mythic. Followed by the crushing heavy anthem “Metal Gods” where ugly 3D robots appear on the screen, while the whole band bounces together on the stomping rhythm. The Priest finally concludes with the two lighter-catchier hits “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and “Living After Midnight”. As they’re saluting the cheering crowd, Rob is pointing the screen displaying the message “The priest will be back”. We’ll see. Lucky were the few thousands here tonight, seeing the live performance of one of the few legends left. An incarnation of heavy metal. Bravo Judas Priest.