The older I get, the more old school heavy metal makes sense. I really haven’t spent time listening to all of Iron Maiden’s discography and ‘Warpigs’ is probably the only Black Sabbath song I can actually sing along to. That being said, as I age I find myself digging deeper and deeper into the black hole that is old school heavy metal and understanding it more and more. That’s also why I was genuinely excited to see one of the greats last night- Judas Priest.
Monday night’s show was held at The Armory in Minneapolis. Although not a new place (Aerosmith and Price have both filmed music videos in this spot), it’s newly re-opened to the public and has started hosting some shows here and there. Last night was my first time in the massive hangar-like structure and I was definitely impressed. Since I was there a wee bit early, I had a chance to stand there as hoards of people flooded in around me. It was before the giant crowd arrived that I was able to appreciate just how big this place is. With a capacity of over 8,000 people, The Armory fits that awkward niche between the 5,000 capacity Roy Wilkins Auditorium and the nearly 20,000 capacity Target Center. The best part about this venue other than filling that void? The people behind The Armory seem to actually give a damn about the sound and your experience. The bathrooms were clean, the bar was efficient and, best of all, it sounded absolutely amazing. The Armory may not be my nightly destination like First Avenue and other venues have become but, after my experience last night, it’s definitely a place I look forward to visiting. But you’re not here to read me gush about this venue are you?
The show kicked off with Black Star Riders- a Irishman fronted rock band with enough chutzpah to actually stand out on a bill alongside two legendary acts. Vocalist Ricky Warwick (does that name sound familiar? It should and I’ll explain why in just a bit) had enough personality to come off as nothing more than an average guy but he also had this very rockstar vibe about him. Rarely addressing the crowd, he and his band of brothers pushed through their quick set and did what they could do make a lasting impression on the massive crowd that seemed to be always growing. Having only been a band since 2012, I was a bit surprised that they got such a coveted spot on such a legendary line-up but, when doing my research, it all made sense. Back to the name Ricky Warwick and why you should know it. Ricky is actually joined Thin Lizzy as their singer in 2009. Scott Gorham (the guitarist of Black Star Riders) and Damon Johnson (another guitarist of Black Star Riders) are also members of Thin Lizzy. What I like about this is that it isn’t super obvious. All of the band members came off as very humble and honestly their sound had more of a Social Distortion feel than Thin Lizzy. The crowd seemed appreciative of the opening act but, at the same time, there was this undeniable sense of anticipation in the air. The audience all knew why they were there and, as amazing as Black Star Riders was, the crowd wasn’t there for them.
Following the short set from Black Star Riders was Saxon a band that has truly stood the test of time (alongside their headlining friends). Since 1977, Saxon has been putting out some truly classic heavy metal songs and somehow haven’t lost it over the past forty years. Being that I am just now starting to appreciate bands like Saxon, I honestly had no clue what to expect but as soon as vocalist Biff Byford kicked in on the opening song, I recognized his distinct voice and was shocked to hear it sounded the same as the discography from the band that I have been pouring over over the past couple of months. With 22 albums, it’s going to take me some time to listen to everything but Biff’s voice is what truly makes this band distinct and hearing that in person was definitely a treat. The crowd was loving Saxon’s set but the favorite song of everyone in The Armory seemed to be Saxon’s 1981 ‘Denim and Leather’. Biff asked the audience for someone to pass up their denim vest that had been painstakingly detailed with patched of many other heavy metal bands. As Biff put on the vest from the random audience member who was probably dying of excitement, he explained that this is what it’s all about. It’s that passion, that drive, the kids that spend time sewing patches on jackets just to rep their favorite bands. Although I was one of the few people with out denim or leather on, the song made sense and was definitely a highlight of the night. I could go on and on about Saxon’s set and how it felt more like a headlining set rather than an opening set but you probably want to hear about Priest… don’t you.
Since 1969, Judas Priest have been the kings of the heavy metal scene. Fronted by the infamous Rob Halford, Judas Priest is notorious for their operatic like vocals, chugging guitars, and just all around brutality. Although the music seems calm compared to some of the stuff that’s out there now, back in the day Judas Priest were taboo almost and that just added to the appeal. Rob was one of the main reasons that you see so many studs on clothes at shows. They honestly took the genre of heavy metal and, alongside other bands like Black Sabbath, made it main-stream in a way (and I don’t mean that in a sell out way). Although the band has taken breaks here and there, Judas Priest has been a staple over the past 50 years and continue to prove that they aren’t going anywhere.
Monday night’s show was part of a tour promoting their newest album ‘Firepower’ which just came out last month. Although the members are clearly getting older, the sound of this new album and the songs being played live really doesn’t differ much from the more iconic songs that came out in the 80’s. It’s truly impressive to hear Rob hit the operatic notes that he’s become known for hitting and realizing that he’s 66 years old. Sure, the band members aren’t doing a bunch of impressive jumps and, other than stalking across the stage, all of the members seemed to stay in their own section of the stage but there wasn’t a lack of energy. Every time Rob would point into the crowd, there would be an almost jolt of electricity.
Although iconic, Judas Priest’s set last night wasn’t over the top. Sure, there were massive screens backing the stage that would show images of flames and album covers but there wasn’t much more than that when it came to their stage show. They really didn’t need more than that. It was nice to see a band that truly has the means to put on a whole production, just get up there and get down to basics. Judas Priest played their music and did it with enough precision that a giant stage show wasn’t needed and would have honestly just been distracting and annoying had they done anything more than they did.
Growing up I would make fun of the heavy metal guys that came into the record shop I worked at. They always had a beer gut, smelled as if they hadn’t showered in weeks, and always had vests on with patches that their moms probably sewed on for them. Now that I’m older, I’m starting to get it and I truly appreciate these guys that probably spent hours sewing those patches on their jackets and that truly just care about the music and nothing more.
Going to shows night after night can get old, not going to lie. Last night I got to see true legends on stage and that’s something that never get old to me.