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Judas Priest

Rising in the East DVD

Review by Gary Hill

Well, what a time it is to be a Judas Priest fan. Over the course of the last couple years we got the news that Rob Halford (the metal god) had returned to the fold, then we got the reunion showing at Ozzfest followed by the awesome Angel of Retribution album and two legs of a tour (at least here in the US) and now this DVD! It's hard to imagine much more on the wish list of Priest fans. Frankly, I've felt that all of the above were at least very close to, if not a bit above the level of anything else the band have done in their career. It's as if the reunion has brought a new vitality and fire to these guys - and in fact, that's probably the case. This DVD certainly shows a band that has never been better in so many ways. Yes, some of the material sounds different than it did on the studio releases, but I've always felt that bands that came out and delivered "note for note" copies of their albums were just about phoning in their performances because live shows should be more than what the CD is. Most of the material here is, in fact stronger than the original versions, and in many cases these are the best live recordings available. So, overall, this is a stellar live DVD from a band who is performing beyond expectations.

Now let's have a look at some of the details that make it so. First, let's have a look at the set list - mind you this one is a bit of a mixed bag, but more positive than negative. They include a lot of Priest classics that are pretty much "required" of the band. But there are some surprises, too. For one thing, this set includes new live recordings of "The Ripper," and "Hell Bent For Leather," both of which we didn't get on our tour here in the States - well at least the headlining tour. There are also five (that's half the album) tracks off Angel of Retribution. That alone would make this video a "must have" for Priest fans. Everyone one of the songs is a smoker live, too. Many songs, the aforementioned AOR cuts, "Victim of Changes," and "Painkiller" are the ones that jump out at me as I write this - exceed both the studio versions, and in the cases of those last two, any live version I've ever heard. I suppose it's unrealistic to assume that such cuts as "Breaking The Law," and "Living After Midnight" could have been bypassed in favor of some less overplayed numbers. Still, while "Turbo Lover" and "I'm A Rocker" are definitely far better here than on their studio releases, I could have stood to see those left out in favor of something less well represented over the years. That said, the cool acoustic version of "Diamonds and Rust" is a nice touch. In other words, while there might be some points where I could see the set being changed for the better, this is a darned good set under any interpretation. Besides, I don't think any band can do a show that is exactly the songs that each fan wants to hear - unless they play every song they've ever done - and again that's unrealistic.

Looking at the performances, in most cases these are the definitive versions of these songs - at least in my opinion. Now, that doesn't mean that they are precisely the way they were played on the original album. Most often they are better. There has been a lot of talk about Rob Halford not making the high notes. This simply isn't true. He hits them when he needs to, at least as well as he did in the heyday of the band. It seems to me that he is showing a certain amount of restraint as he's matured as a vocalist. I mean, it's kind of like the guitarist who when he's young feels that he has to show with every riff just how fast and furious he can play. But as he gains a level of maturity he realizes that if he focuses on playing meaty solos, and only putting out the speed when its really called for, that it adds to the music and makes those burst all the more dramatic. I think that Halford has learned the same thing over the years when it comes to his vocal performance - and in terms of the overall show - it really does add a lot. Now, that said, I also remember people saying that when they did "Exciter" (still awesome that they pulled out this old chestnut) that they knocked the song down a couple notches to allow Halford to sing it. Well, I swear that when I saw them in Chicago, they played it in the same key as the album, but on this DVD, it is stepped down. Still, it's killer to hear that one in any form as it is definitely been under-represented over the years in their set. I still think that, despite the fact that I really always like Les Binks a lot, Scott Travis is the best drummer the Priest have ever had, and he is on fire on this performance, as he was on every show I've seen since the band reunited. Tipton and Downing are playing together in ways that I don't think they've ever managed before - and theirs is one of the defining twin guitar attacks in metal, so that says a lot. Ian Hill, as always, is the understated, but very dependable bass line to the band, and for once gets a bit of chance to share the limelight more than he usual did in the past. The result is a fine tuned, live metal machine that is firing on all thrusters throughout.

Well, that brings us to the actual film itself. I'd have to say that the sound on this recording is impeccable. The filmography is definitely unobtrusive and on the money. There are moments where the lighting doesn't seem perfect, but having shot the band, I can tell you that even still photography under the varying lights is tough - I can't begin to imagine trying to do video. I guess the only real downside to this set is that there aren't any bonus features. Still, as good as this DVD is, I can live without it. For fans of the Priest, this one is a mandatory purchase. If you've never seen the band live and would like to know what you're missing you should always pick it up. In fact, there aren't all that many metal concert videos that are on a even plane with this one - so if you like those type of DVD's you should definitely get this one, too. After the last couple years, these guys are going to have a hard time competing with what they've done. I'm anxious to see what they do.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

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