Show Review: Judas Priest and Steel Panther @ Tacoma Dome (November 22nd, 2014)

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When it comes to heavy metal music, there are few bands from what many consider to be its “Golden Age” that have endured for as long and with as much effortless power as British metal legends Judas Priest. As founding vocalist Rob Halford was quick to remind the audience at the Tacoma Dome on November 22nd, Judas Priest is currently riding their 40th year of shredding, and throughout lineup change after lineup change, shifts in musical style, and several lawsuits concerning their music driving kids my age to off themselves, the band has endured for this long as one of the most prolific and well-loved bands in history. Of course, when a band of that magnitude rolls into town, on their last show of their North American leg of a massive world tour, at a venue as huge as the Tacoma Dome no less, you’ve got a perfect recipe for an unforgettable concert experience.

The show started at the crack of 7:30. After gliding past the mob of angry Christian picketers demanding that all of the attendees repent or burn in hell, we got into the venue just in time to see the opening band, Steel Panther, who were pretty repent-up, all things considered. Steel Panther is a comedic metal band that’s a complete over-the-top parody of the shittiest that 1980’s glam metal had to offer. If you made a Pandora Radio station consisting of Winger, Cinderella, Great White, Faster Pussycat, and Danger Danger, well, you should probably just give up on life now. But if you were to, you’d have a pretty good index of their sound. The main difference is Steel Panther’s complete self-awareness in their ridiculous song topics, lyrics, and overall non-serious vibe, which fits in perfectly. If you’re seriously considering reviving the most outwardly laughable and flamboyant period of hair metal, it’s advisable to have your tongue in your cheek so you don’t have to taste all the dicks in your mouth. I’d heard of this band for about a year, but Saturday night was my first proper exposure to the band, and while their live show was absolutely spectacular, their music was a little lost on me.

From an instrumental and structural standpoint, the music of Steel Panther doesn’t really parody or subvert the style of late-1980s glam metal as much as it sticks to the style to a tee and then claims it’s being parodic and subversive. Their songs are filled with lots of soaring high-pitched wails, explosive sing-along arena-ready choruses, and lots of fill-heavy climaxes that you’d hear on any late-‘80s glam metal single, and not much else beyond that. Where their music differs is in their highly joking and consummately-sexual lyrics about Asian prostitutes, cheating, Tiger Woods, and how heavy metal is the only good genre of music, all of which are delivered with all of the subtlety and seriousness of The Inbetweeners. I know there are a lot of listeners out there that listen to their music and think it’s a laugh riot, but even for deliberately-stupid low-brow music, I found a severe lack of any clever lyricism or even any lyrics that stick out that I remember to justify the inanity, like other comedy bands like Ninja Sex Party are so good at.

But then again, the whole appeal of Steel Panther seems to be in their live performance, which is incredible and then some. Michael Starr, Satchel, Lexxi Foxx and Stix Zadinia all have an insane amount of stage presence and charisma, and when just speaking back and forth to each other, they’re fucking hilarious. Their mannerisms and outfits are really entertaining, perfectly making fun of the over-the-top stupidity of the style of music they’re reviving.  The amount of interaction with members of the audience, even as huge as the one at the Tacoma Dome was, was great, with a lot of direct interaction with the photographers in the pit, as well as various random audience members. Despite them playing music I’m not really fond of, it fit right in amid their equally tongue-in-cheek live performance. Their sound was also to be commended, with Michael Starr’s very impassioned and solid vocal delivery, Stix’s destructive drumming, and Satchel’s next-level guitar playing, with some unbelievable solos throughout, particularly towards the beginning of their set.

I originally went into this review ready to denounce Steel Panther as being nothing more than all style with a purely noxious substance, but then I realised that that’s exactly the point of their music. Steel Panther makes terrible music because the style of music that they’re reviving/ripping off is terrible, and they put all of their effort into their stage performance and visual aesthetic because that’s what the bands they’re parodying did, and me calling their music abysmal is exactly what they want me to do. It’s like that Chainsmokers song “#Selfie”, albeit with some actual musical talent behind what’s being performed. Steel Panther is a group of exceptional musicians coming together to be an intentionally terrible band that doubles as an absolutely wonderful performance group. It’s for this reason that I recommend you see Steel Panther the next time they come rolling into your area. While I couldn’t picture myself listening to songs like “Asian Hooker” and “Pussywhipped” just sitting here in a computer chair, I had a butt (rock)-load of fun at their set Saturday night, and I’ll gladly see them the next time they roll into town.

After a half-hour intermission, all the lights turned out and the audience promptly lost their shit even before hearing the first chords strummed of the first track that they played, “Dragonaut”, off of their most recent release, Redeemer of Souls, from July of 2014. All the band members but Rob Halford came out and were immediately firing on all cylinders with large, hard-hitting guitar riffs and dominating drum slams. It was a pretty successful way to get the crowd already amped up, but it wasn’t really until Rob Halford came out, looking like Dr. Eggman in the midst of his glammed-out phase, draped in a long leather coat with more chains than a Trinidad Jame$ concert, belting out the lyrics to this newer single with an infectious amount of gusto and energy, that the Tacoma Dome crowd lost their shit. Moshing was happening every which way, audience members in the side-bleachers were jumping all around head-banging, and not having the horns thrown up for the entire show was seen as some sort of stigma. Thus began a night of pure heaven in the form of sweet, sweet hell.

Judas Priest’s overall set-list was a surprisingly diverse one. I’m sure many concert-goers, like myself, were expecting a sort of Greatest Hits compilation of their biggest and greatest singles over the years, with a few songs off of Redeemer of Souls thrown in. But that turned out to be anything but the case as the group instead made their set an exploration of some of their most crowd-pleasing non-singles from over the years, mixed with several songs off of Redeemer of Souls, and just a few hit singles thrown on, particularly towards the end of the set. It didn’t seem like the crowd cared either way, though; they were just happy to get their Priest on. While I was disappointed to not hear “The Hellion”/”Electric Eye”, “Painkiller” or their excellent cover of Spooky Tooth’s “Better By You, Better Than Me”, I don’t really have complaints about the songs that they did perform, especially their great performance of “Leather Rebel”, which I wasn’t expecting to hear at all.

Their set-list was solid, but it was really in the band’s musical performance and stage presence that I was the most impressed by Judas Priest. Even though guitarist Richie Faulkner was somewhat of a recent addition to the band and had a lot of pressure put on him by virtue of being the guy who was brought on to replace K. K. Downing, founding member and guitar legend that many would deem an irreplaceable member. However, Faulkner’s phenomenal guitar playing was a spectacle to behold, and he and Glenn Tipton played off of each other incredibly well. Despite Faulkner being about 30 years younger than every other member of the band, he fits right in, and has a lot of chemistry with the other members. Glenn Tipton, at 67 years old, can still pound his guitar into submission with ease, which especially came into light during their performance of the long epic “Victim of Changes”. For the most part, I felt like drummer Scott Travis was the one who got the short straw, sadly. Travis’s contributions to Priest’s albums ever since his joining are some of the best in all of heavy metal, and it was somewhat disappointing to not get to hear him properly flex for the Tacoma Dome crowd. I guess too many people think drum solos are boring.

For me, though, I was most impressed with frontman Rob Halford’s voice and stage charisma. At 63 years old, Halford still sounds just like his old self, with signature overbearing screams, husky talk-singing and operatic cleans intact. In 2012 I saw Mötley Crüe at the White River Amphitheatre in Auburn, and was blown away by just how horrible Vince Neil’s voice has become over time. Motherfucker sounded like he spent every passing moment of the last 31 years having throat-tearing screech-alongs with Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, and now his vocal chords are held together with Blu-Tack. Rob Halford has done an awe-inspiring job of preserving his voice of the 40 years the group has been together, most notably when he went into his arena-shaking highs that I don’t even think most people could do without hurting themselves. It was just nothing short of inspiring seeing this guy that’s almost 4 times my age still coming out on stage after all this time, sounding like his old self, still able to prance around the stage passively interacting with the other members, and still managing to do everything in his power to wow such a massive crowd with as much success as Halford had on Saturday night.

To me, the concert really took a turn for the awesome towards the end. The album artwork for the band’s seminal 1980 album British Steel flashed on all the screens behind them, and then they started talking for a little bit about how this was their breakout release, before ultimately leading into a performance of the album’s essential and instantly-recognisable hit “Breaking the Law”, which also sounded great. After this, Rob walked off stage for a short while, and then the ear-piercing sound of a motorcycle starting up, and lo and behold, Rob came out riding a huge motorcycle, sporting his signature Muir cap and leather whip, and immediately the band went into a rendition of “Hell Bent for Leather”. After that, the band had a fake-out end, and after a while, came back out to do two more mega hits, namely “You’ve Another Thing Comin’” and “Living After Midnight”, where they had the members of Steel Panther come out to play and generally mess around with them. It was a perfect one-two punch to end an outstanding night.

Overall, I’d say the concert was an excellent one. Both bands had an extraordinary amount of energy and drive, both bands sounded great, and it was very clear both bands were having a shit-tonne of fun on stage performing. Going into the show I thought Steel Panther would be a mind-blowingly out of place band opening for Judas Priest in how seriously Priest takes itself, but they both had one main thing in common that made them both work well together: it’s obvious both bands love what they were doing, and will in all likelihood be doing it ‘til the day they die. Next time either of these bands come rolling into town, I recommend you see them live. And remember, Jesus will always love you.

Your friend,
Jess Casebeer

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(To see more pictures from the event from Judas Priest and Steel Panther, click here and here, respectively.


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