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Judas Priest

Live in Chicago, IL, June, 2005

Review by Gary Hill

Judas Priest stormed into the greater Chicago area on their Angel of Retribution tour, and although the evening air was on the hot side of warm, their performance was even hotter. This reviewer has seen Priest many, many times, but this may have been the best performance I've ever seen from them. Their sound and stage presence were both right on. Although they didn't play it entirely safe (they did four songs from their latest, several seldom-performed live numbers and rearranged versions of a couple more), the set list was probably the only issue I had with the show - and even then it's a minor one. Honestly, with a catalog as vast as the Priest have, it would be nearly impossible to please everyone with a two-hour concert.

The show started with the traditional "Hellion/Electric Eye", and frankly, that was one of my issues with the concert. Don't get me wrong, that combination of tracks is an awesome one, and their performance was spot on - even hotter than the studio version. Frankly, though, as great an opening one/two punch as that one is, they have opened with it for many, many years, and I just think it's time for a change. Really, I think that "Judas Rising" from their latest disc would be at least as strong an opener, and would have the added attraction of novelty. In any case, though, the band was off to a hot start, and it was something that would continue throughout their set.

They continued on with several tried and true numbers, giving the beginning part of the set the feeling that it could have come from any of their tours of the mid-1980's and beyond. The next three tracks were numbers that I had seen performed live by the band on numerous occasions and while this part of the set was solid, it was nothing new - in terms of material or performance. The next couple songs, though were the first change of pace. The band cut into both "Judas Rising" and "Revolution" from Angel of Retribution. Both exceeded their studio versions in this set. I know there are a lot of Priest fans who aren't crazy about "Revolution", but I'm one of those who was convinced by it from the onset, and the strong live take on it did nothing but make me all the more sure of that.

Gary Hill
Gary Hill
They followed it up with "Breaking The Law", another Priest standard, but then moved into the next number that is a bone of contention with me, "I'm A Rocker". Frankly, while they haven't done this one often (if ever) in the past, I'd say there is a good reason. It's a weak song in comparison to other material they have done. Frankly, the fact that they put this one (and a couple of other questionable entries) into the set, and left out "The Sinner" is nearly a crime in the view of this reviewer. As hot as the band was on this particular night, this one just didn't cut it in comparison to most of the rest of the songs they did.

The band then threw out another surprise. Their cover of Joan Baez' "Diamonds and Rust" has been a mainstay of their live set for years. This time, however, rather than their usual full on metal take on the cut, they donned acoustic guitars to put in an incredible nearly unplugged take on it. I say "nearly" because for the last segments of the number, both K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton went electric, turning it into a hard rock anthemic take. The tune worked extremely well, and was a great surprise.

Gary Hill
Gary Hill

They launched next into another new song, "Deal With The Devil". On the album the song is very strong and features some killer guitar dueling, but that's just a warm up. This one really comes into its own live, and was one of the strongest points in the live show. I hope they keep this one in the set for a long time, as it is one of their best displays of the patented Priest twin guitar attack. The ever solid nearly balladic, nearly epic "Beyond The Realms of Death" came next, and was delivered in a strong, if not earth shattering fashion.

Next up the Priest delivered another of the questionable entries from the set. The Turbo album is almost universally accepted as the weakest effort from the group, and they pulled "Turbo Lover" from that release. This rendition was definitely stronger than the studio version, and held up quite a bit better than "I'm A Rocker", but it would have been nice for them to have put a stronger piece into the lineup. They recovered well, though, jumping into another new number, "Hellrider", which, like the other new tracks worked even better live than it does on the AOR album. Considering how strong this one is as presented there, that says a lot.

Another standard, albeit in one of its best arrangements and performances I've heard, "Victim of Changes" was up next. This one rocked out very well and proved that the Priest still has it. They weren't done with surprises yet, though, dishing out "Exciter" from Stained Class next. This has always been a Priest favorite for me, and live it really worked well. I have read reviews that state that Rob Halford lowered the song because he couldn't sing it as high as he used to do. Frankly, I don't find that argument to have a lot of merit. While this arrangement is an octave lower through much of the song, he found plenty of opportunities to jump up to his old high notes. That shows me that he can still pull the song off as recorded, but instead chose to make some changes to the performance for some other reason. In any event, the cut worked at least as well this way as it originally did.

Greg Olma
Greg Olma
They had not hit their apex yet, though. As they tore into "Painkiller" I was totally blown away, as I'm guessing were most in attendance. This song has always been one of Priest's most ferocious, but I have never seen them as on fire as they were here. This one was definitely the strongest point in the show, and real killer. If they don't release a live version of this, I'd be surprised. The remainder of the show was taken up by songs that one could easily guess. All were delivered very well, but there were no real momentous instances here.

Overall both K. K. Downing and Glenn Tipton were on fire throughout the majority of the show. Halford, while still maintaining his quirky metal God stage presence, found more opportunities to make it personal. He talked to the audience more than I have seen in the past, and his vocal performance throughout much of the show felt more passionate and immediate than other shows I've seen. As always, Scott Travis and Ian Hill put down a solid and very dependable and fiery rhythm section. The final tally, this was a killer Priest show - probably the best I've ever seen. Here's hoping they make it back in the fall or winter. I'm definitely game for another dose of the Priest!

Greg Olma
Greg Olma
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at
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