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Judas Priest/Heaven And Hell in Pennsylvania

By A Headbanger, Do You Bang Head?
Monday, August 18, 2008 @ 11:51 PM


August 16, 2008 in Burgettstown

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Reviewed by Redrustler

It’s another Saturday night, and the Priest is back. And so is Heaven and Hell. And so is Motorhead. And so is Testament. I made the four-hour trip to Pennsylvania (not really in Pittsburgh, live everyone says) because this was a great opportunity to see four bands that I really like. On most tours in which more than two bands play, a couple are usually throwaways. Not here. The venue is an open-air variety, and physically similar to Riverbend in Cincinnati, where I last saw Priest and Anthrax about three years ago when they toured for Angel of Retribution. I like the Pennsylvania facility more, as it has a full eatery and drinkery on both sides of the seating area, making quick pit stops to the bar and restrooms a breeze. Also, the parking lot is much more open, lending itself to the tailgaters, of which there were aplenty. Problem was, after the show, they give you about an hour, then force you to get out of the parking lot. I mean, people tailgating, drinking, then go in the show drinking, then they whisk you out, forcing you to pass police officers on your way out. It almost seems like they are hitting the bushes so that animals run into the traps. I heard one person say that after a Clapton concert, they set a sobriety checkpoint outside. A venue makes all this money; you’d think they would consider the patrons a little more. Fortunately, I, as opposed to my wife, quit drinking before Priest’s set, but I wondered if I told the men in the golf carts that I was too drunk to drive, would he have forced me to the street anyway? But I digress.

First up was Testament, starting promptly at 6:00 p.m., and after some initial sound problems, we finally heard Chuck Billy. First: the sound. Like others around me commented, there was too much bass and kick drum, and the vocals were way too distorted. They either fixed the mix between bands, or Testament was screwed with bad equipment and no sound check. They did, however, have their banner with the new album cover from the top of the stage to the bottom. Chuck Billy was looking just like he was when I saw them touring for the Demonic Possession release, and sounding just like Chuck Billy, although when I first saw them, they were more in the throes of death metal. Which is good, considering his health issues. The other difference this time around was Alex Skolnick’s presence. It looks like he is growing out his hair again. Skolnick did most of the solos, which he performed in his typical shredded virtuosic style, and looked like he was genuinely having a good time. He smiled their entire set. Chuck Billy pointed him out by name on more than one occasion, as if to say that the prodigal son has returned. As an aside, pick up his discs from his jazz trio, performing many metal tunes, they are well worth it, and will be a sense of pride when your moron elders tell you that metal musicians cannot do anything else, and you prove them wrong. Their set list, as I recall, consisted of Over the Wall, Disciples of the Watch, Practice What You Preach (which got the loudest response), More than Meets the Eye, The Formation of Damnation, and I believe Henchman Ride, all from the new disc (all of which were excellent, and show Testament has returned to their roots). I wish the list could have been longer; it lasted between 30-35 minutes, but with so many bands, and so little time…after a very quick set change, up was Motorhead, hitting the stage at 7:00 p.m. The venue was about half-filled at that point. Why is it that a great, influential band like Motorhead is on stage, and half the people at the venue are milling the concessions? Upon entering the stage, with cigarette in mouth, Lemmy announced that they are Motorhead, and they play rock n’ roll. He then asked how everyone was doing, and told us that they would have something to say about that. They started off with Dr. Rock, then Stay Clean, Metropolis, Going to Brazil (introduced as a rock n’ roll song), Killed by Death, Mikky Dee drum solo, one more tune that I do not recall, but I do not think is on the new album, then finishing with Ace of Spades and Overkill. Lemmy did was his usually charming self. An intentionally clumsily orchestrated dual guitar prance with Phil Campbell, a’ la Judas Priest, finished with an over the head pinky clasp, then later I saw him dancing backstage with the bass tech during Mikky Dee’s drum solo. Phil Campbell changed guitars every song, which led Lemmy to state “So many guitars, so little time.” Having seen Motorhead co-headline with WASP, and one time as a headliner, they acted like they really had nothing invested in this show. No doubt the abbreviated set and half filled seating area had something to do with this. They were on for about fifty minutes. But seeing Motorhead in an opening capacity is not the way to see them. Too many good songs are left out. When I saw them at Annie’s in Cincinnati, there were two girls dancing and heavily making out with each other at the back of the floor during the show, when someone, towards the end of the show, asked them to come backstage. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out who requested their presence, and what for. I have to admit that I was looking around the seats for another target. I saw none.

After a little longer break, during which a drum platform was installed, chains, two gargoyles (which were, as my wife pointed out, anatomically correct), and new lighting in place, Heaven and Hell took the stage at about 8:15 p.m. I have read how small Ronnie James Dio is, and that ain’t no lie. But, man, what pipes. He has more wrinkles, and less hair, but man, the voice has not lost a step. He knows his range, sticks to it, and seemingly never makes a false step. This was my first time seeing him and half of Black Sabbath (with Vinnie Appice on drums), and therefore was my most anticipated act. They did not disappoint. With two members of Black Sabbath and two from Dio, I wonder which two are Heaven and which two are Hell. Tony Iommi must be metal’s most underrated guitarist. His leads are so clean and precise, yet he plays the chords with such drive and force. I could watch him all night. Plus, he looks like he would fit in with some of the older British guitarists who get such ink, but he never does. Their advantage is that they have a small discography, so every song will be great. They started off with Mob Rules, which set the stage for their performance. Hard, thunderous, aggressive, and Ronnie. Then Children of the Sea, I (from Dehumanizer, which Dio commented on two occasions was a great album, the second when they played Time Machine, which certainly sounded like the most poppy song they played). I got the impression that Dehumanizer is the stupid child and the parent keeps telling the child that although his brother’s are brain surgeons, he is not stupid. It is not a bad disc, but compare to Mob Rules and Heaven and Hell?

On Sign of the Southern Cross, Dio commented that this song was about the southern constellation. I always thought was it about the upside down cross. This was the highlight of the set for me. Hard. Plundering, and, for parts of the song, a lone red light on Dio as he sang. An evil presence. Prior to Falling off the Edge of the World, Dio stated that it was the first song that they all wrote together, written when the world was not in great shape, and it is appropriate now because the world is worse. Problem was, Vinnie Appice was not in the band, and did not write the song, and Dio looked back at him after he made the comment and kind of give one of those “woops” looks. Later came Neon Nights, and, of course, Heaven and Hell. They changed the version slightly, with new lyrics shortly prior to the final part of the tune when it speeds up. For me, this created some great anticipation, because that is great culmination to a great song, plus it was almost like the first time I heard the song, which is something you do not get back.. They were off about 9:35 p.m.

After another quick change, at about 10:00 p.m., with the Nostradamus canvas and two red light behind the man’s eyes, which made for a very cool look with the lights out, the band cut into the title track from that release, with Rob Halford rising from a platform like he did on the Angel of Retribution tour, draped in a silver reflective robe, his face invisible. In fact, it looked like the same set, only the designs being different. I really liked the title song, and having heard it again after the show when leaving, I guess that it is the best tune on the record based upon the mixed reviews I have read here. It was the only song from the new release they played. I was really anticipating this show because I had read that they were going to pick songs off the beaten path, and I was looking forward to those songs. I somewhat complained here in my review of Priest following their Retribution tour that many of their songs live are played over and over again, and there is little variance from one tour to the next.

Next up was Metal Gods, and I was starting to think that I was going to be let down. Not to worry. While Breaking the Law, Hellion/Electric Eye, Screaming for Vengeance, Painkiller, and Hell Bent for Leather all made the set list, Living After Midnight, Victim of Changes, Desert Plains (which I love), Diamonds and Rust, and Touch of Evil did not. What did they substitute? Devil’s Child was the third tune they played, and is probably my third favorite song from the Vengeance album. I was stoked. Rob, now without robe, was far stage right, clutching the microphone for dear life, slumped forward, looking at the floor. Between the Hammer and the Anvil was up next, and it had more power than I think it has on recording, Less polish live. Then Eat Me Alive. This is the song that I remember Tipper Gore complaining about because of the line “I’ll force you at gunpoint, to eat me alive.” When Rob sang that part, I looked for her, but alas, she was not present. I wish she would have been there. Rob appeared to be really in this song. Then Rock Hard, Ride Free. Another song off the charts. The song became extended because the band used the song to generate a lot of audience response. I did not see K.K. out on the stage wings, so to speak, much at all, but Glenn and Rob alternated between the far left and right to get the audience into responding “Ride Free” to Rob’s “Rock Hard.” It is a perfect song for audience participation, which never hit me before, and I am surprised that it has not made the set list until now. Hopefully, we’ll see it again. They also played Hell Patrol, another tune that sound better live, less clean, more raw, than on record.

Before each tune, they would bring out a canvas of the album title from which the next song would be played. This created some anticipation. When they moved out the Angel of Retribution canvas, everyone around me thought that Revolution was coming, since the flags on the stage that Rob used for Metal Gods were blowing in the breeze. Nope. It was Angel. A bit off the charts, I presume for purposes of slowing it down a little since Diamonds and Rust was not on the list. Rob hit this one perfectly. I think we are seeing a transition in his voice. Seeing his vocals on the Memphis D.V.D. (which my 2 ½ year old plays air guitar to using the tee from his batting tee and one leg up on the couch – no lie, I’ve caught him pulling it from the case and trying to unsuccessfully play it in the c.d. player, after flipping through thirty D.V.D.s trying to find that one disc), his mid range work on tunes such as Victim of Changes seems less sure and consistent than his current performances. Likewise, his screams and upper register works seem rougher today than then. But damn, did he sound good on that tune.

Then, the big one for me. The tune that had me in goose bumps, like now. The tune Metal Edge some years ago called possibly the best heavy metal song ever written. The only song that I am aware Slayer has ever covered on disc, which tells me something. Which one? Dissident Aggressor. Screams and all. Thundering guitars. All out drum assault. Please, please, please, put this tour on D.V.D. I need this live version. My two complaints? One. Priest need to make it a ten-minute song. Two. Where was the crowd for this song? People go bonkers at Breakin’ the Law, a tune they have heard a cajillion times, and then not much for Dissident Aggressor? I’ll go out on a limb here. If you pee your pants when you hear Breakin’ the Law live, and do not at least dump yourself for Dissident Aggressor, then you are not a true Priest fan. There. I’ve said it.

They finished up with Hell Bent for Leather, complete with motorcycle. This is trite, but I love Rob singing on the Harley. Last time around it was Desert Plains, this time Hell Bent for Leather, and both times super-cool. After some interaction between Rob and the audience, Screaming for Vengeance. This was another great Priest outing. I know there has been some speculation about how much more time Rob has with Priest, but he seems to be having a great time onstage with his mates, and he really seems to dig the vibe and energy he gets from his audience. In baseball parlance, I think that is a trade in which both teams loose. If you get a chance, catch this tour. They don’t make ‘em like this every day.



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