Live Event: Judas Priest – Manchester Apollo, November 28th 2015.
Having been a fan of Judas Priest since 1979 and seen them live on stage many times over the following years, I will admit to being slightly hesitant before going to this gig. The reason for that is the last couple of times I’ve seen the band they paled in comparison to my memories of their earlier gigs. Admittedly they are all getting older and time takes its toll on everyone, but somehow they seemed ‘sluggish’, and the fire that once burned so bright seemed to have dimmed somewhat. That is only my opinion of course and yours may well be different from when you’ve seen them, but I still courted memories of seeing them on the Screaming For Vengeance, Defenders of the Faith, Turbo, Ram It Down and Painkiller tours. Despite loving the return of Rob Halford and the Angel of Retribution album, that tour and the following ones always left me feeling as though their best days were behind them.
How wrong I was!
Myself and Ike (my friend and gig-going buddy of 35+ years) have been to the Manchester Apollo MANY times since we first set foot into the place in the early 1980’s, but we were racking our brains as to when we’d last seen it that packed and with a crowd so vocal! There was plenty of grey hair on show (those that were lucky enough still to have it) and a smattering of old skool denim jackets replete with classic rock band patches sown onto them; this was definitely a crowd that had grown up with Judas Priest albums as part of the musical soundtrack to their lives.
The powerful riff and bombastic drums of Dragonaut immediately got the crowd pumping their fists, and when Rob Halford made his usual understated appearance onto the stage (cane in hand) the roar from the assembled metalheads nearly took the roof off the place.
Metal Gods was next up and the first big opportunity for everyone to sing-a-long…needless to say that everyone took advantage of this. Then it was the first of many jacket changes for Rob (something that became noticeable to me on the Turbo tour) before one of my all time favourite Priest songs began; Desert Plains. Then it was straight into Victim of Changes and Rob showed that he hasn’t lost any of his vocal chops (despite me thinking otherwise on previous tours) as he hit every note with a clarity that sent shivers down my spine.
Were Priest back on form? Was my earlier hesitancy unfounded? Could this be one of the best gigs that I’ve been to?
Make that a huge YES on all counts!
With a setlist that mostly culled from their 76-90 output (and each song teased in advance by showing the cover from the album that it was from on the massive video screen), they ripped through songs with a ferocity that I thought I’d never see again. Richie Faulkner has truly found his place in the band now and very often takes centre stage; firing up the crowd with fist pumps and powerful guitar riffs. Accompanying him is the always superb Glenn Tipton, a guitarist whom I’ve always admired. Ian Hill rocks the bass on his hips as always and looks like he is lapping up every second of being onstage (when he stepped forward into the spotlight and began the bass intro to The Rage, I’m sure that I began to scream like a pre-pubescent girl at a boy-band concert), while Scott Travis has the uncanny ability of creating the most powerful drum sound while making it look far too easy!
It is however the vocals of Rob Halford that tie up all of these magical musical pieces and make them into one of the best rock bands ever. Turbo Lover, Beyond The Realms of Death and Screaming For Vengeance showed that he could still hit all the notes. It was inevitable that we would hear the roar of a Harley Davidson at some point in the evening, but when he appeared onstage with it, the place erupted once more and we all went ‘Hell Bent For Leather’.
Two encores, more singing and lots of smiles ended not only a 105 minute setlist, but also ended my premature lamenting of the band. Long may they continue to rock.
Review by Dave (host of 60 Minutes With)