Judas Priest certainly wasn’t the first heavy metal band, but for many the long-running British band has come to exemplify the genre. The group celebrates their fiftieth anniversary next year (though that date takes into account early incarnations of the band that changed significantly by the time of their 1974 debut album Rocka Rolla) and were nominated for the first time (but ultimately lost out) for entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. Their eighteenth studio album Firepower, released earlier this month, is an hour-long tour de force that shows a band still maintaining its edge going into its fifth decade. Judas Priest is a band that still frequently plays arenas, but their tour for the new album brought them to DC’s newest and largest club venue The Anthem, where fans packed the space to capacity.
Fans of the band got some bad news last week when it was announced that long-time guitarist Glenn Tipton wouldn’t be joining them on this tour due to an ongoing battle with Parkinson’s disease. Fortunately, he was able to ask Andy Sneap, former Sabbat guitarist and co-producer of Firepower, to step in. As a long-time core member of the band, Tipton was certainly missed. But if anyone in the audience had any doubts about Sneap, they were surely cast aside quickly as he proved himself capable of filling the role.
The band opened the show with the title song to the new album, but lest anyone feared they might not get to hear their favorite Priest tracks, they immediately jumped back to 1978’s Killing Machine for the second song of the night, “Running Wild.” While the band played a few more from the new record throughout the night (“Lighting Strike” and “Evil Never Dies”), the vast majority of the set was a greatest hits affair – well, hits insomuch as a band as inexplicably eschewed by the charts over their long history has hits. The band did, of course, play “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” their 1982 track that went all the way to number four on the US mainstream charts. But it was songs like “Breaking the Law,” “Hell Bent for Leather,” and “Painkiller,” the fan favorites, that really got the crowd going and singing or shouting along.
Most amazing was that at 66 years old, Rob Halford is still capable of all of the falsetto shouts and guttural growls that his singing has become famous for. Through the band’s two-hour-long set he barely took a break, generally only pausing between songs to change jackets. Overall, the set showed a band still more than capable of putting on a great live show. If Tipton’s departure serves as a warning that the group won’t be around forever, it’s only one more reason to get out and see them while you still can.
Another British metal legend, Saxon, opened the show. Saxon has been around for quite some time themselves – they celebrated their fortieth anniversary last year – and their 22nd album Thunderbolt came out last month and quickly became the band’s biggest selling record in years. It’s easy to tell why as Thunderbolt is classic Saxon, and their powerful live performance led by singer Biff Byford showed that like Judas Priest, Saxon has lost little of their power. As an opener their set was unfortunately short, but they still managed to get in several new tracks, along with classics including “Princess of the Night” and “Power and the Glory.”
Also opening were relative newcomers Black Star Riders, though with long-running Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham as a member they certainly have some pedigree. Their energetic set included several songs from each of their albums including their latest Heavy Fire, as well as a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak.”