Judge Ryan Keefer has been busy Tivoing VH-1's month of metal in an attempt to reclaim lost youth.
"Rob Halford, I wanna jump yer bones, dude!"—Unknown female outside a Judas Priest concert in Largo, Maryland in 1986.
As something of a metalhead in junior high and high school, Judas Priest was one of those bands I just couldn't quite get into, and couldn't understand why others did. Let me clarify; in no way did I not like Priest, I just couldn't go headlong into that area. I was more of a Metallica and Slayer fan, and liked any band who could play hard and fast and whose singer would sound an awful lot like Sesame Street's Cookie Monster. The fans of Priest, God bless 'em, were (and probably still are) a devoted bunch, and their semi-lucid devotion was recorded for posterity in the excellent short film Heavy Metal Parking Lot, where some tailgating Priest fans were given a microphone and podium to reflect on their thoughts of the band.
But Judas Priest was certainly not a lightweight in the heavy metal hierarchy, and when it came to British bands that employed a two guitarist formula with a singer that can belt it out at the top of his lungs, Priest's Rob Halford was in rare air with Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson. What surprised me about Priest was the fact that not only had they been around for almost a decade before their 1982 "Screaming for Vengeance" World Tour, but some video footage shows them as clearly going through a bit of a Mott the Hoople period in 1975, where there were a lot of hats and flowing shirts. But they switched over to leather outfits and metal spikes soon after, and achieved stardom in the early '80s, with songs like "Breaking the Law" and "You Got Another Thing Comin.'" Backing up Halford's vocals were guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, and a rhythm section of Ian Hill and drummer Dave Hollard. They have been performing as a group in one version or another since 1969, and despite a trial in 1990 that accused the band of inserting subliminal messages into their records (and Halford's subsequent departure from the band), Priest soldiered on, even hiring a singer from a Priest tribute band to perform with them (the story was later immortalized as the film Rock Star). Halford made his homosexuality public in the late '90s and eventually returned to the band and they continue to perform today.
This particular show was first released on a couple of different occasions as part of a Priest boxed set and a separate VHS release entitled Judas Priest Live. This concert, held at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee on December 12, 1982 has the following playlist:
• "The Hellion/Electric Eye"
From a performance aspect, Halford doesn't engage in a lot of small talk or cater that much to the audience. When he does talk in between sets, everything is rushed, except for the ends of sentences when the last syllable is stretched out real long. It's almost as if someone had shaved Pat Robertson's head, taught him how to sing, took him through an S & M leather bar of some sort, and then put him out on tour with his friends.
With that lack of real connection, one has to naturally gravitate to the music, and the music is very good. You are left hoarse, battle fatigued and dehydrated after 90 minutes of yelling, singing, smoking and holding up your cigarette lighter. Even when you would initially think there's a letup in "Diamonds and Rust" (I mean come on, it's a Joan Baez songwriting credit!) it's actually an exercise in precision guitar playing by Tipton and Downing.
As far as audio and video merits go, the audio is in either PCM stereo or a six-channel Dolby surround mix. I went with the PCM, and it's a somewhat respectable sound. Considering the performance is almost a quarter century old, it's nice work. The video is full screen and judging by the awesome visual effects (please note the sarcasm), looks to be pulled from some sort of stadium camera setup.
While Live: Vengeance is certainly no Woodstock or Gimme Shelter, Priest's relevance in the music scene in the late '70s until the mid '80s is something to behold. While the video quality may be a little bit wanting, this is a solid show and every fan of the group would enjoy having it in their library.
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