Judas Priest – Live Review – Baltimore Pier Six Pavilion 10/24/14

Just writing the title to this article feels a little intimidating – Judas Priest are as close to heavy metal royalty as any band that are able to claim a legacy reaching back 40 years. There may be pretenders to that throne, but Priest have a legitimate claim. Trying to review a band like this feels a bit like writing an automobile review of a Ferrari – sure the same principles apply as writing something for a Honda, but the bar is raised to a completely different level here. However, there is plenty to talk about, so let’s set the scene here.

The future of Judas Priest at one point, not so long ago, looked to be in question. KK Downing, founding member and guitar maestro, had decided that his time was up and walked off into retirement, seemingly happy to run a golf course and most recently putting his name to a line of heavy metal perfumes… The latter has still got me scratching my head. For a while the very existence of the band seemed in question, but a replacement was announced in the shape of relatively unknown (at the time) Richie Faulkner. Any time someone new walks into the shoes of a rock icon there’s going to be some resistance, and even to this day, now a World tour and half into his membership of Priest, I still see people questioning “the new guy”.

Well, let me get this over with: Richie Faulkner has without doubt stepped up and brought new fuel to the fire that was beginning to splutter. Priest are ‘back’ and have a new energy that flows from the stage with every beat, every note, every scream. To put this in context, I last saw Priest back in 2005 on the Retribution tour and despite memories of a great show; there was a certain mechanical quality to the whole thing. Of course every song delivered; you can’t fail with material as strong as Priest’s, but I think the seeds of KK’s departure were already sown. Prior to this I’d seen JP perhaps two or three times before back in the 80’s and, without doubt, those are classic memories of the band at their peak. So I’ve seen the band over a good span of time and feel qualified to offer an opinion.

The first thing to think through is that Judas Priest are somewhat obviously not going to just hire “anyone”, so it is fairly safe to assume Richie has a resume that qualifies him. For those that don’t know, prior to Priest, Richie most recently was playing guitar for Lauren Harris’ band – yes, Steve Harris’ daughter. Yep, “the” Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. Lauren Harris had toured most of the World with Maiden and naturally all the members of the band got to know the members of Maiden really well.

When Priest started looking for a KK’s successor, it would be natural to look for recommendations from bands of similar statue. Now I don’t pretend to know all the in’s and out’s of the hiring process that brought Richie into the band, but it is clear that Rob Halford and crew are more than happy with the chap they brought into the ranks. In fact one of the things you can see on stage is an appreciation for Richie’s playing and overall stage presence. This is further reinforced by the fact that Richie gets to deliver the only solo spot of the night, but now I am getting well ahead of myself. The bottom line is this; open your ears and eyes, and judge on performance.

The “Redeemer of Souls” album was released back in early July and my review for this album scored a solid, if not outrageous 8/10 – you can read it here if you feel inclined: Redeemer Of Souls. My main beef, albeit relatively minor, after living with the album for a few more months now, is the production, which speaks to me of a Protools by numbers effort, recorded over a period of many months – in plain words, the record feels ‘bitty’, with some tracks working like monsters and others a little less so. It’s just not a cohesive smash-you-in-the-face experience. Good, but could do better sort of report card. However, I still stand by my good words relating to the initiation of Richie Faulker to the JP discography.

When the tour was announced I was pleased to see the Baltimore date on the list, since the previous time I had seen them was in my least favorite venue in the local area; the soulless “Jiffy Lube Live” (or as it was in 2005, Nissan Pavilion), which may be in distance closer, but sucks for many reasons, not least being outrageous beer prices and horrific parking. The Baltimore venue was listed as “The Pier 6 Pavilion” which I had never been to before, but saw good things written about it. We ended up with seats in the 4th row, which was excellent, even though we paid a good deal over face-value through a reseller. This was one of the few time when I believe this was worth spending the extra – Priest aren’t exactly touring on a regular basis so there are times when you have to grab opportunities as they come by.

Pier 6 Pavilion is actually more or less an outdoor venue, with an open view from the stage looking out over the Baltimore harbor, which makes this a pretty unique venue. I would estimate the capacity at about 10,000 and of course the venue was full for Priest, but from looking back at the crowd from the 4th row I would imagine this is a great venue to see a band, no matter where you are seated. One minor complaint; security isn’t exactly well enforced and at the start of Priest’s set a lot of ‘extra’ people had pushed to the front that clearly didn’t have seats which was kind of annoying. Eventually this was sorted out. I don’t know why they don’t have a barrier around the seated area and a couple of staff at the entrances to keep things a little more under control.

Support for the show was somewhat disjointedly listed as “Steel Panther” and while they can be amusing, I wasn’t really interested in them in the context of a Judas Priest show. We actually arrived about two-thirds of the way through their set, and I wasn’t at all bothered at missing what we did. In another setting I would probably write good things about them and I realize they are only having fun, but their irreverence seemed forced and hard work, at least compared to the times I seen them before. Fortunately we only had to sit through three songs or so and they were done.

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A large Judas Priest drape hid the preparations taking place on the stage and this only added to the sense of anticipation that was clearly building throughout the venue. After about 20 minutes, it was show time and before we could blink, the drape fell to the opening riff of “Dragonaut” and the twin guitar attack led by Glen Tipton and Richie Faulkner was sharp and sliced through the night air. Immediately I was impressed by the excellent sound mix – loud and powerful – and there he was, Rob Halford in impeccable voice. The opening line of Dragonaut was a perfect entrance, “Welcome to my world of steel, master of my domain…”. He couldn’t really have put it any better. Now, Rob Halford has not been shy about talking about various medical issues that are affecting him (his back problems perhaps being the most notable, but not the only thing), but blow me down, he sounded better than I remember from any time I’ve seen him previously. You can make up your own mind with the videos I took, which are linked below.

The second track up was the classic “Metal Gods” from British Steel and this gave me a chance to look at the “new guy” in the context of the stage show. Basically I can keep this pretty short – Richie Faulkner is critical part of the Priest lineup and was always up front and center, constantly interacting with the audience, launching guitar picks into the crowd and firing everyone up. Not only this, but it is clear Rob and the rest of the crew are entirely at ease with the role he has taken. This comment totally overlooks his musical contribution, which is massive. Richie is a guitar hero right up with the best and if anyone questions why he is up on stage with the rest of JP, all they need do is go see the band – the answer is more than obvious from the notes flowing from the fretboard from whichever one of his many Gibson’s he happens to have in his hand.

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Turning to the remaining members, Glen Tipton basically is up there doing what he has always done, solid and tight. He may have stepped down the showmanship a little and, to be honest, I have always thought he was team-player rather than the guitar virtuoso, but I also have to remind myself that like Rob and Ian, he is on the wrong side of 60 years old now, so charging round the stage like a scalded cat probably isn’t on the books any more.

Ian Hill has the right rear corner of the stage locked down, exactly as he has done for the past 40 years pretty much. I think Ian definitely deserves more credit than perhaps is sent his way. While not an “in your face” player, without the drive he gives the band, the power that is evident flowing off stage, would certainly be missing. I have to add, he is also a super-nice bloke – we met him after the show and spent quite some time chatting. Rounding out things we have Scott Travis on drums and he was sounding in brutal but sharp form throughout the show. We were fortunate to meet him after the show and I was completely unprepared for that fact that Scott is easily 6’6” tall. He was very humble when told just how much a fan Michelle is of Racer X, which is another of Scott’s projects.

The set continued with “Devil’s Child”, which you can see on video here: http://youtu.be/zqjw3CmT32A. As you can see and hear, the band was killing it live. There is no doubt in my mind that Judas Priest will continue to tour for a good many years based on this performance and the Redeemer Of Souls album – there is a lot of music still in these guys – no matter what might have been said back around the time Epitaph was released on video. Too many bands go through this farewell performance/tour/album thing. I remember attending the Status Quo farewell show in London in the mid 80’s… they are still touring, albeit limited to dates in Europe, some 30 years later.

The band is playing the same set list at each gig, but you can see the list here: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/judas-priest/2014/pier-six-concert-pavilion-baltimore-md-4bcccb6a.html

I am hard pushed to pick a favorite track of the night, since every song, be it new or old was delivered with such power and passion, but it might just have been to classic “Breaking The Law” simply from the energy you could fell both from the stage and audience together. I managed to snag part of it on video here: http://youtu.be/cN9fmR8w5K4. Another monster was the new track “Halls Of Valhalla” which is a favorite of mine from Redeemer Of Souls. It would be hard to ignore “Hell Bent For Leather” which of course opened with the arrival of Rob Halford sat astride a Harley. You can see this here: http://youtu.be/04B2RmQnLrg

Towards the end of the set, and I honestly can’t remember exactly where this fits exactly, Richie gets to take the spotlight with a brilliantly executed guitar solo, which is another commendation and affirmation of his position within the Priest ranks. This not only gives him a chance to shine musically, but also showmanship wise. We came to be entertained, not sit and politely clap, and Richie does not disappoint. I absolutely lost count of how many guitar picks he launched into the crowd with a flick of the wrist and a big smile every time. He is clearly having fun and wants to make sure everyone in he audience does too.

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The set closed with “Defenders Of The Faith” from the album of the same name and I know I could have sat through another hour or more without a tiny bit of a complaint, but the hour and half we were given was a definitive demonstration of why Judas Priest are in the top five metal bands of all time in my book. Some might argue that this or that track was missing from the set, but this is one of those cases where no matter what they picked, someone would find their particular favorite missing. When you have such a deep catalog of material, picking 16 songs from a 100+ possibles is always going to be a tough job. To close, this will go down in my book as one of my all time favorite shows. The band really gave off a great vibe – they were psyched to be up on stage, just as much as the audience was to be out in front of them. No doubt – 10/10.

– Neil Waterman

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