Friday, May 16, 2003 @ 9:34 PM
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When Ripper Owens asks the audience if anyone in attendance breaks the law on Disc 2 of Judas Priest’s Live in London, one can only imagine the responses.
“Hell yeah! I break into storage facilities.”
“I huff gas!!”
“I impregnated my sister—she wanted it though.”
As the shrieks fade into the chords which signify the intro to “Breaking the Law,” the CD instantly displays the typical Glenn Tipton/KK Downing interplay that has been the backbone of the classic Priest sound for over twenty-five years. Granted, the drumming, Scott Travis’ domain now, is generally faster than the timekeeping supplied by Dave Holland in the old days, but at least you don’t have the drawback of those pesky arrests associated with the perpetration of sex acts on 17 year old wheelchair-bound females. What kind of media circus is this going to look like anyway in the wake of recent accusations made against him? “Uh, Mr. Holland, at what point did you realize that you were aroused by the paraplegic’s positioning in the wheelchair? Would you consider this a pattern in any way? Did you start by abusing women on crutches or just females with a slight limp? Is this some type of fetish?” Yeah, the negative publicity would be crippling—best to make the switch to old Travis, for sure. Of course, Ian Hill is still around playing his bass in the periphery while allowing those around him to do their jobs with more fanfare in much the same way as he has always done. Obviously, the most significant omission here is that of Rob Halford. Many fans still haven’t gotten over his absence nor will they in the future. To them, Judas Priest broke the heavy metal law themselves when they had the audacity to part ways with their former lead singer. Never mind the fact that personnel changes are part of life and that Priest has managed to remain a viable live force since his departure while continuing to bring authentic metal music to all those who seek it—no, these fans would rather pine over the loss of the past rather than be thankful for the offerings of the present. For those who live in the moment though, Judas Priest’s Live in London skillfully documents a stellar concert performance possessing the type of virtuosity and emotion that any band in metal would be proud to put on vinyl and call their own.
The first disc of material from this performance contains ten classics as well as three newer offerings from the Ripper era. “Metal Gods” starts the festivities with it’s usual methodical, plodding buildup which culminates with Ripper’s measured impassioned grunting which--when combined with a laxative--could best be described as a “moving” experience. Although this is a solid introductory selection, when paired with “Grinder” these two tracks still have to be considered a couple of the weaker renditions of the older material. Not to worry though, the mediocrity of those tracks soon gives way to the power inherent in compositions such as “Heading Out To the Highway,” “Victim Of Changes” and “Diamonds and Rust,” which all prove to be definitive takes on the classic songs that remain the reason many became fans of JP in the first place. The fact that these numbers don’t deviate much from their live predecessors doesn’t mean they come of as shameful, hackneyed rip-offs from the halcyon days of the Priest either, rather they just seem comforting and stand as a testament to the fact that you can still get a ticket to a Judas Priest show in 2003 and hear these standards delivered with the same type of commitment and musicianship you first appreciated in high school when the primary concern in life was how to sneak a beer during lunch or passing periods.
The newer material is represented by “One on One” and “Feed on Me” from the Demolition LP as well as “Blood Stained” from Jugulator which Owens describes to the audience as “something a little more brutal.” In truth, the crowd does appear to be involved in this track as it chants the chorus in a frenzied unison and rocks along with the various time changes and tempo alterations in the song. These three tunes perfectly exemplify the fact that whenever Priest performs new material in this set, it doesn’t seem like there is the same type of letdown that there is with most groups coerced into playing new material in an effort to give the illusion of maintaining credibility. In this case, the rejuvenation has to be attributed to the fact that Owens can’t help but be prideful of the music he assisted in creating in conjunction with his boyhood heroes. The result is that he brings the same type of spirit to the new offerings as the old while the band literally seems to be buzzing away with a vast assortment of musically potent chainsaws and jackhammers behind him. If you didn’t like the new material at all before, this probably still won’t be enough to convert you, but if you even remotely cared for either Demolition or Jugulator, these performances should only serve to deepen your appreciation.
The second disc begins with “Beyond the Realms of Death”—a song that encapsulates all that early Priest was about. It was defiant, loud, soft and emotional all at the same time, yet if any of these songs magnifies the difference between Halford and Owens, it’s this one. I’m the last person to go, “Ripper sucks, Priest died with Halford,” and on this track… yeah, you kind of do miss Rob, but if this is the worst deficiency on this two disc set, then you have to know that this project (DVD and CD) is better than good.
“Breaking the Law,” “Desert Plains,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and “Living After Midnight” are all selections that satisfy one’s inner yearning for the days when Judas Priest came to the local arena, sold the place out and made you proud to wear a Defenders of the Faith t-shirt. Dammit, Ripper even does a great version of “Turbo Lover” here, and if there is one complaint to be made about the set list it’s just that Priest has such a plethora of material to choose from that it makes a detailed representation of their work impossible. The consequence is that even great Priest albums like Turbo may have only one song present in this collection. I know that the colored leather of this period didn’t go over real well with the hardcore headbanging biker crowd, but the tunes in Turbo possess some of the catchiest, crunchiest choruses the band ever wrote, and it remains easily one of their most listenable discs even to this day.
New material on the second half of the set primarily consists of “Burn in Hell” from Jugulator and “Hell is Home” from Demolition. The same power that exists in the new offerings on the first disc is present, and even if the lyrics aren’t quite as engaging or even as clever as they used to be in the Halford days, these selections still represent a promising beginning for the band. Granted, the abrupt switch in style from the Halford-era material to the frenzied power of Jugulator turned off many listeners who relished the more melodic churnings of their earlier years, but it isn’t like Judas Priest is cramming tons of new material onto these two discs either. There are a total of five songs here from their last two studio albums--none of which detract greatly from the continuity of the overall performance.
The truth is that Judas Priest’s Live in London is not only worth the time to listen to it, it’s also worth the money as well. Now, if you want to hold Priest accountable for the fact that they aren’t exactly the same band they were in ’86, then maybe you should consider the fact that you probably aren’t the same as you were seventeen years ago either. It remains understandable that listeners would hold a sentimental attachment to Rob Halford, and in fact, the case could be made that he is the best vocalist in metal—past or present, but the reality is that even if through some unexpected chain of events Rob did eventually come back to the band, it still wouldn’t be the same as it used to be just the same as it wouldn’t be if Van Halen reunited. Times change, people change, but one thing remains constant---Judas Priest delivers live. This absolute has remained true throughout the years regardless of how the public may have viewed their current roster or studio material. If you’re looking for some JP style metal that reminds you of the old days without the feeling of a mere note by note duplication or a stagnant, soulless replication, pick this up and realize that—lineup changes aside-- 2003 still isn’t a bad year to be a metalhead.
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