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STRYPER Live In Pittsburgh, PA

By George Mihalovich, Pittsburgh Contributor
Friday, June 20, 2014 @ 8:36 AM


Churching Up At The Altar Bar On Thursday, June 12, 2014

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Openers:

XANDER DEMOS BAND (original Pittsburgh power metal - look for their debut CD TBA 2014)
ANGELIGHT (original Christian heavy modern rock)

Both bands were a good addition to the bill; they were professional and well-received by the audience.

Headliner:

STRYPER seems to be riding a career resurgence; at least, as much as a metal band can given the respective states of the music industry, economy and popular culture. Their 2013 CD, No More Hell To Pay, was a critical and (relatively speaking, of course) commercial success, and this concert demonstrated they can still deliver the goods live as well.

I haven't seen STRYPER since their heyday, but their collective musical chops remain undiminished; and if you still think of them as a sappy "ballad band" - you've got it all wrong. At this point in their career, they come across as a high-energy metal act and and are heavier in concert than on records (No More Hell to Pay excluded). Yes, they came to prominence in the 1980s on major label with the over-the-top spandex, hairspray and glam image, but they really shouldn't be dismissed as just another hair metal band. Make no mistake, this is far from SLAYER or METALLICA on the scale of heavy - and there is a little pop cheese and balladry mixed in here and there - but STRYPER is, at their core, a classy melodic hard rock/metal band influenced by the likes of JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, BLACK SABBATH and UFO (as documented on 2011's The Covering). By the way, I respect the fact that they exclusively played their own music, but I liked The Covering and wouldn't have minded hearing one or two of these tracks in the set.

Besides the added aggression and energy, what makes them a live contender is their songwriting, musicianship, guitar harmonies and outstanding vocalist. Speaking of vocals, I didn't detect any digital trickery (with the exception of some keyboard samples); that's more than I can say for a few other bands I have seen recently. Michael Sweet has always been a standout singer, and his pipes show no signs of wear. He was impressive throught the evening, notably during his acapella intro to "Soliders Under Command." Bassist Tim Gaines and guitarist Oz Fox were also more than capable on backgrounds. Robert Sweet didn't sing much, but he gets plenty of points for his authoritative and flashy drumming.

Moving on to the guitar work, Michael Sweet receives a lot of the attention (he plays more than half the solos in addition to his role as lead vocalist and chief songwriter), but Oz Fox is no slouch either. In fact, much to my chagrin, he's better than I ever picked up on their recordings. When Michael put down his axe for a few songs towards the end of the evening (e.g., "Honestly" and "The Way") Oz really had the chance to show his stuff. A minor point, but it was a nice visual contrast when he deviated from the strict yellow and black color scheme and used a silver and black instrument for the latter part of the show.

The packed house at the Altar Bar was a mix of both secular and Christian music fans (an educated guess of 70/30, respectively), and it was kind of moving to see the two camps rocking together. After all, metal gives plenty of time to the dark side, so it seemed righteous to give equal time to the light! Furthermore, as Michael Sweet pointed out at the end of the show, it was ironic - yet fitting - that they were performing in a converted/repurposed church. No kidding, the Altar Bar was a real church. And while we're on the subject of religion, in case you're wondering, they still throw bibles into the crowd (just one time early on). Unsurprisingly, the banter was overwhelmingly positive and G-rated, but Michael had an engaging stage presence and knew how to talk to the crowd. When he said a prayer to close the set, it didn't come across as preachy or out of place; just refreshingly human and sincere.

STRYPER is a worthy live act metal act and still mean business both in terms of their music and positive message. If they are performing near you on this tour, do yourself a favor and check them out - particularly if you missed them them the first time around. You just might become a believer.

Setlist

  • "God"
  • "Revelation"
  • "Loud N' Clear"
  • "Reach Out"
  • "Calling On You"
  • "Free"
  • "More Than A Man"
  • "No More Hell To Pay"
  • "Marching Into Battle"
  • "In God We Trust"
  • "Always There For You"
  • "All For One"
  • "Caught In The Middle"
  • "Honestly"
  • "The Way"
  • "Soldiers Under Command"
  • "Abyss/To Hell With The Devil"


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