Judas Priest / Anthrax
Rockford Metro Centre, September 28, 2005

By Dr. Abner Mality

When I was messing around in the lab trying to perfect my new East Nile Chicken Flu virus earlier this year, I must have gotten careless. The Good Doctor was seized by one of the worst bouts of illness he has had since my unfortunate encounter with Bucolic Plague a couple of decades ago. Hacking up blood was not the least of it. The unfortunate upshot of this malady was that I had to miss Judas Priest playing the Tweeter Center early June in Chicago with Queensryche opening. This was the first headlining Priest tour with Rob Halford in the lead position for about 15 years.

Fate works in mysterious ways. I missed that show with much regret, hoping that Priest would come back to the area in my lifetime. Well, the Metal Gods smiled, for Judas returned just a few months later to my very home town of Rockford, Illinois only a couple of miles away from my lair. Not only that, but they managed to pull Anthrax...also reunited with a long lost frontman...along for the ride. Now THIS even Lou Gehrig's Disease couldn't have kept me from seeing.

Let me first express my disappointment in the size of the crowd. I am enough of a realist to know that a classic metal band like Judas Priest is not going to sell out the Metro Centre on a weeknight. But I was hoping they'd at least be able to pull the same amount of people as the local minor league hockey club. No such luck. Well, the crowd lacked nothing in enthusiasm and I was heartened to see many young faces attending the show. Anybody who saw the dreadful nu-metal band Ten Years play the same night elsewhere in Rockford should never call themselves a true metal fan again.

It's been a long and twisting road for Anthrax, but things seem to have come full circle for them. The band has once again settled into the same classic configuration that unleashed seminal albums like "Among the Living" and "State of Euphoria" upon the world and I must say, it seems very natural and comfortable. Talking to singer Joey Belladonna, it was obvious he felt it was destiny of these guys to reunite and attack the masses once again. Joey also said that Anthrax's show would get straight to the point and hit the crowd with nothing but classic hits. He was right on the mark with that remark.

Opening with "Among the Living", first thing I noticed was the conspicuous absence of Dan Spitz. About three quarters of the
way through the song, Dan finally showed up and unleashed a solo with his laid back, almost Ace Frehley like demeanor. One of the things I like about Anthrax is that each member has a different stage presence. Frank Bello is one of the most active and intense bassmen in rock...he runs around like a madman and frantically gestures to the crowd while thrashing like crazy. Bald headed Scott Ian is a gnarly little dude who doesn't run around quite as much, but who strikes a very distinct and energetic pose with his intense facial expressions and headbanging. The aforementioned Spitz is definitely the cool customer of the band but not so much as to be aloof.

Most of the stage is commanded by Belladonna, who is an archetypal metal frontman. He hasn't changed his hairstyle since 1985 and God bless him for it. Vocally, he was just as strong as ever and during the opening of "NFL", he hit a LONG sustained note that few could have matched (one of the few happening to be Mr. Halford from the headlining band tonight). He's still one of the most distinct and melodic frontmen in thrash metal.

Only one real surprise amongst the set list, that being "Medusa" from "Spreading the Disease". The rest of the set was all excellent "Indians" which the crowd sang along with, "Antisocial" (ditto), "Caught In a Mosh" and a bone-crumbling closer of "I Am the Law". As you might expect, nothing from the lengthy John Bush era was touched on, which I feel was a shame. "Only" is as good as tune as Anthrax ever wrote.

Nevertheless, the "real" Anthrax is back in action and they fulfilled their function very well tonight...setting the table for the Metal Gods, Judas Priest.

And that does indeed bring us to the headliners tonight, Judas Priest. My admiration for this band is unlimited and it certainly was not altered tonight, but I am disappointed in the rigidity of their setlist. I know there's no way in hell they are ever going to get rid of "Living After Midnight" or "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", but must EVERY show open with "Hellion/Electric Eye" followed by "Riding on the Wind"? Priest has a rich, rich heritage...I certainly don't think it would kill them to open with "Freewheel Burning" or maybe "Judas Rising" from the new "Angel of Retribution". Hell, it might be cool to uncork "Screaming for Vengeance"!

There's an easy familiarity to Priest live, as you pretty much know you are going to see a thoroughly professional metal band blow the doors off. The very choreography of their stage movement has become set in stone...the "robot walk" from Halford during "Metal Gods", the weird tangle that begins "Breaking the Law". It is comforting but there's not much danger or unpredictability in Priest's setlist. There was one glaring exception which I thought was VERY cool and that was replacing the typical old encore "Hell Bent for Leather" with the moody and haunting "Desert Plains" from "Point of Entry". This has always been one of my favorite Priest songs and the band did a superb job of it tonight. This minor deviation from the gameplan resulted in probably one of the night's most enjoyable tunes.

The sound tonight was absolutely magnificent and I have never heard Glenn Tipton's guitar sound better. It had the purity of a ringing Tibetan temple bell! But who would expect less? The twin guitar attack of Tipton and K. K. Downing is just as breathtaking as ever...their work on the new tracks "Judas Rising" and especially "Hellrider" was outstanding. "Victim of Changes", already one of the best metal songs , was delivered tonight better than I have ever heard it...guitar, vocals, rhythm. K. K.'s solo was absolutely INSANE! It was a sublime convergence of metal forces that makes this lifetime headbanger reach a stage of intense enjoyment. Really, time seems to melt and disappear when you see and hear something as pure as this.

There was a bit of a slow spot in the middle of the set where the band trotted out an unlikely "I'm A Rocker", an affecting
acoustic version of "Diamonds and Rust" which showed their talents in a less heavy setting and the semi-ballad "Worth Fighting For" from "Angel of Retribution". I know the band are of the opinion that heavy metal is a multi-faceted art with room for all different kinds of approaches, not just fast and furious screamers. They proved their versatility tonight with these more melodic tunes, but still, the pace and energy does tend to lessen when they are played.

Other highlights included a moving "Beyond the Realms of Death", an intense "Painkiller" which had Rob sporting some of his most pained, bizarre vocals ever and a fist-pumping "Revolution". If the band were put off by the mediocre crowd size, they never showed it and seemed genuinely touched by the warm response they received. These guys are pro's and don't need to yell and curse at the crowd to get a response. A shame that that's what so many people want these days.

Rob Halford is a stern and elegant presence on stage. He probably changed costume more times than Madonna. He is a consummate showman and a credit to the world of metal. To heap more praise on him would sound like I'm kissing up, but really, he is the METAL GOD and thank GOD he is back with Judas Priest. It was a privilege to see him in action up close.

Yes, the Priest show is overly familiar but it builds and builds in power and intensity until no one is left unsatisfied. If you are hungry for heavy metal played at its highest level, you will not go wrong with this band.

Judas Priest's Official Website

Anthrax's Official Website