(Editor’s note: So there were, having some cold beers after a sweltering day at the Cherry Bar in downtown Melbourne. That it’s at the end of AC/DC lane should tell you everything you need to know, or maybe that the first song we hear as we arrive is Whitesnake’s Still Of The Night at roughly 1,000 decibels.
If you’re alone you can pass the time guessing at what the graffiti-covered walls have been silent witness to over its many years as one of Australia’s greatest rock bars, or if you’re feeling conversational manager and spiritual advisor Slug will tell you a story or two. One of the repeatable ones is that Cherry Bar is actually Hammer-favourites Airbourne’s local, and they’re coming out to hang. Apparently this was their first home away from home when they made their journey from their humble hometown of Warrnambool. And it’s on these walls where, over ten years ago, they first scrawled what would eventually become their logo. Over a few beers they update us on their plans, and the lowdown on local action. Conversation inevitably turns to Soundwave festival which is is sweeping across the country, and as it happens the brothers Joel and Ryan will be flying down to Sydney in a couple of days to watch Judas Priest. “Hey man, fancy a review?” he asks. Joel, we thought you’d never ask.)
With a can of Jack and Coke in hand I walk into the hallowed rock grounds of the Enmore Theatre in Sydney and am greeted by the smell of stale booze and fresh sweat to the strains of Flick Of The Switch and For Those About To Rock pumping out of the PA – I’m in my natural habitat. As Priest’s stage crew check and load the weapons for the oncoming heavy metal assault, I meet some old friends out in the sea of black and denim battle jackets. Then, out of nowhere the room is drenched in darkness and War Pigs blasts out – a very fitting walk-on track from Priest’s Birmingham brothers in heavy metal. The crowd, now gathered “like witches at black masses” sing like a rabid army going into battle. It’s like a bolt of lightning as Priest hits the stage, Dragonaut the monster opener from their latest opus, unleashes the beast to the room and sends every fist of horns through the roof, the Priest are back!
I’ve seen quite a number of Priest shows in the past and they’ve always blown me away, but tonight is another realm. I don’t know how but the lads have taken it up another notch. From the first song the band are on fire – the sound is rock solid, crystal clean and LOUD! This is a well-oiled touring heavy metal machine folks and it’s firing on all cylinders.
It rolls into Metal Gods and I feel like a kid at a show on the Fuel For Life tour along with the whole room screaming, ‘metal gods!’ Rolling like an armoured tank division into Devil’s Child (a classic I’ve always wanted to hear live), the duelling axemen Tipton and Faulkner have forged a new guitar god partnership where the great K.K. Downing has left off. They’re charismatic and tight like the Waugh Brothers in the ‘90s, smacking sixes with every solo and riff.
Halford is on lightning form, his razor-sharp vocals sand blasting the 100 years of art deco paintwork clean off the walls. He’s in that Fuel For Life form, he’s electrified, fist pumping and venom spitting as he marches around the stage. He’s the ringmaster, he is the Metal God and he’s come here to lay it all out on the stage… and indeed he does. While nailing every single sibilance of every single Priest lyric he’s screamed into our ears over the years, the heavyweight singer is everywhere on the stage. He’s getting his fingers in all of the soaring guitar solo pies, raising the crowd higher and higher with his unmistakable charisma and he’s constantly in the crowd’s face giving us the classic Rob thumbs up.
Hill, the man who’s been there since day one, holds it down like the mountain of sound he is and has always been from Priest’s birth, matched with his engine room comrade and military precision sticksman Travis who’s been bringing thunder to Priest since ‘89.
I don’t want to divulge the whole setlist for fear of taking the surprise out of any future shows, so I’ll just say the rest of the night is a non-stop assault of anthems and monstrous future classics from Redeemer Of Souls. Priest is really on fire right now in their 40-something year career and in that old, sweaty Enmore it’s the perfect setting to witness such a flawless heavy metal spectacle – they really are gods.
The part I’ll remember most about tonight’s blistering roar of a fever pitched crowd being sliced by a million guitars and Rob Halford’s diamond cutting voice, is the band’s camaraderie and passion for doing what they love. Glen Tipton still has that glimmering spark in his eyes, he’s having an absolute ball up there, and it’s like he knows tonight is something special as he grins and cheers on his new brother Richie Faulkner. There’s something about watching a performer genuinely have a good time on stage that completely captivates you. You can see them all having inside jokes with each other and with their crew, and above all else you can tell they’re genuinely loving this crowd and playing heavy metal as they have done for so so many years. It’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen since AC/DC Chicago on the Black Ice tour, it’s one I won’t forget. The hangover will be worth it.