Judas Priest: screaming once again

Rob Halford and co. ride into Brixton with Michael Schenker in tow for an evening of near-religious fervour

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If proof was required that heavy metal is, in its own way, some form a religion, then naysayers should have been inside the Brixton Academy for last night’s concert by Judas Priest and Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock.

As the house lights dimmed for the headliners, Black Sabbath’s War Pigs blaring from the PA and with Priest’s logo fluttering on a flimsy curtain through which the band members were dimly visible, with a single voice the occupants of Brixton bellowed out the song’s words at impossibly loud volume. This was just one of several goosebumps moments throughout the evening.

Singer Doogie White quipped that Schenker’s band, including ex-Scorpions members Francis Buchholz and Herman ‘Ze German’ Rarebell, boasts “350 years of rock‘n’roll experience” and pointing out that the guitarist didn’t actually play on the Scorps’ Rock You Like A Hurricane (co-penned by Rarebell) feels like splitting hairs, but by Christ… did the crowd sing it loudly. Schenker was positively animated and grinning from ear to ear; he’s finally learned how to enjoy himself onstage, as proven during this triumphant display.

Michael Schenker

Michael Schenker
(Image: © Kevin Nixon)

Before we get onto Priest, here’s a piece of important personal disclosure. Following the band’s epic, two-and-a-half-hour 40th anniversary show at Hammersmith in 2012, I had vowed never to see the band again. Rob Halford’s voice simply wasn’t cutting it anymore.

It was recent reports of Halford singing far better than in recent years, along with the fact that their current album Redeemer Of Souls proved a grower, that tempted me back. Nevertheless, I felt some trepidation.

Oh ye of little faith. Fuck knows how he managed it – and had I not seen and heard it with my own eyes and ears, I’d never have believed the fact – but Rob’s performance last night left me eating those words. Sure his voice has changed. He’s 64 fucking years old! The delivery is rougher, the really high notes tougher to reach and indeed to sustain. But a combination of a shorter, more sensible set-list, slightly adapted phrasing, bags of echo and effects and sheer bloody-minded determination ensures he sounds more than passable the entire way through.

If there was ‘trickery’… well, I sought it, and saw/heard no evidence.

As two of the quintessential moments in metal history and requiring the full banshee treatment, Victim Of Changes and Beyond The Realms Of Death – both delivered before the halfway mark – were where the wheels could quite possibly have come off… and, believe me, they didn’t.

The night’s three new numbers (Dragonaut, Halls Of Valhalla and Redeemer Of Souls) deserved inclusion, and it was terrific to hear the likes of Desert Plains, The Rage and Screaming For Vengeance back in the repertoire.

But the night’s star was Halford, with his array of costume changes and wonderful cheesy banter. Look in the dictionary for the definition of the word ‘ludicrous’ and there’ll be a photograph of Rob, resplendent in a long, silver, leather coat, resembling Emperor Ming caught in flagrante delicto at a Roman baths orgy.

A few months ago he told Classic Rock: “I’d love to be singing Painkiller when I’m seventy”.

Don’t bet against it.

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