Concert Review with PHOTOS: Judas Priest

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By Mark Derricutt

Artist: Judas Priest

Date / Venue: Saturday March 16th, 2019 - Spark Arena, Auckland

Following a tragic day in Christchurch New Zealand will never forget, with large concerts there cancelled due to public safety, and with stunned and saddened people overwhelmed by what had happened, the Auckland show for Judas Priest and guests Halestorm took to the stage for a night of unity in heavy metal.

The first words of the show delivered by Lizzy of Halestorm uplifted the crowd. “Whatever happens - love always wins."

One of my earliest memories of Judas Priest was watching a video at a church youth group on the evil heavy metal infesting our youth, backward masking, and lawsuits around the suicide attempts of James Vance and Ray Belknap, and like many, my main takeaway from the film was a list of bands to check out - not quite the result I'm sure they were going for.

It wasn't until a few years later that I actually listened to a Priest album back to back. I was immersed in the Christian metal scene and hadn't exposed myself to a lot of music from the "normal" scene. That all changed with 1990 Painkiller release - it was still Judas Priest, but everything was now on a different level - everything from the now iconic opening drum blast of (then) new drummer Scott Travis, the twin guitar attack of Downing/Tipton to Halfords piercing wail - THIS WAS METAL!

Ticking all my boxes with sci-fi-esque, religious undertones that still leave me pondering lyrics; this was an album I just knew was going to stay with me for a long, long time.

And then, after 12 albums together, Rob left the band. Yes we got two Fight albums, the industrial experimentation of Two, and several solo albums, along with Priest providing both Jugulator and Demolition with Tim "Ripper" Owens fronting the band - it just wasn't the same.

Roll forward to 2005 with Angel of Retribution and the return of Halford to the fold - all was right with the metal world, until 2011s departure of long standing guitarist K.K.Downing, and Glen Tipton's Parkinson's diagnosis - Priest were, and still are a band that has faced many challenges, fighting them head on with no desire to stop.

And so it was -

Halestorm kick things off with that timely declaration from Lizzy —- "Whatever happens - love always wins," before driving right into Black Vultures, Love Bites and Mz Hyde - 15 minutes prior I was still sitting on the fence over Halestorm - they were a solid act with solid riffs and Lizzy an amazing guitarist, but nothing stood out to me - and then in an instant - there's the live show which just blew me away! Lizzy's voice, style, and stage presence showed them as the performers they are.

Drummer Arejay (Hale) was not shy with making his presence known either, with a drum layout fully exposing him to the crowd and sticks that flew through the air to be caught, and sometimes dropped as Arejay leapt all over his throne, culminating with a rather amusing set of  "big sticks" pulled out during a drum solo.

Freak Like Me had everyone jumping in unison and closer. I Miss the Misery left everyone pumped and ready for Priest.

With a nod to Osbournes absence from tonight's bill - Black Sabbath's iconic War Pigs comes over the PA marking the start of Judas Priest’s first headlining show in New Zealand. As the band kicks off I've already noticed the setlist has been tailored for the New Zealand audience as Delivering The Goods replaces Firepower as show opener, moving through songs I'd never thought I'd hear live, with The Sinner and The Ripper from Sin After Sin and Sad Wings Of Destiny respectively - following up with Lightning Strikes, No Surrender from the bands 2018 release Firepower, which proves that either Judas Priest were far ahead of their time, or their writing is timeless - songs that sound fresh even though they were written over the band’s vast lifetime.

Turbo Lover kicks in for a tonal change. I remember the album being panned or derided due for the experimentation with MIDI based guitars and a "synth" feel, but now the song comes as a fan favorite with the audience lapping it up.

Priest’s cover of Fleetwood Mac's The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) was a surprise I welcomed with open arms. Then there was the silent show of respect to New Zealand with a Kia Kaha backdrop at the end of Rising From Ruins - actions often speak louder than words.

Closing out the main set with Freewheel Burning, You've Got Another Thing Coming, Hell Bent For Leather and Painkiller the show ended on a high that left me more than satisfied.

The Metal God's were not fully done with us mind you, and soon enough The Hellion breached the PA and followed by Electric Eye, Metal Gods, Breaking the Law and closing out with Living After Midnight.

By all accounts I should have been a zombie but I left the venue pumped, a weight lifted off my soul through the cathartic scream of heavy metal that I wish our Christchurch brethren could enjoy.

For me - this is hands down gig of the year, beating out last night's Anthrax/Slayer show, and leaving the as yet unplayed Metallica show to go.