50 Heavy Metal Years: Judas Priest and Queensrÿche dominate Vegas

As a kid, I loved heavy metal. (And I still do!) I grew up listening to bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Black Sabbath. It wasn’t until I was about 12 years old that I had been properly introduced to the Heavy-Metal-Gods, Judas Priest. My uncle was a huge Judas Priest fan and even took me to see them when I was 13. I can still remember being blown away by their stage presence. Their guitarists were amazing! Rob Halford rode his Harley-Davidson out on stage! Being a motorcycle enthusiast from a young age this just blew the shit out of my adolescent mind. The lights, the energy, the perfection of every song! I was in complete awe at how Halford could hit such high notes with utter clarity and unwavering stability.

When I had first seen Judas Priest live, it was at the beginning of my live-music journey. That being said, I just thought all concerts were going to be that way. 18 years and over 100 live concerts later and I can tell you that Judas Priest still holds the title in my book for one of the best concerts out there. What can you really expect from a band that has been dominating the metal scene for half a fucking century? That in and of itself is probably one of the most impressive things I’ve ever heard. Judas Priest was formed in Birmingham, England in 1969, and has played one of the most pivotal roles in the creation of the metal music that we all know and love today. To put their longevity into perspective, Priest has been around longer than Iron Maiden (1975), Metallica (1981), and even AC/DC (1973)

Enough about the past, let me bring you back to the present. More specifically I’d like to bring you to March 13th, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada. I got there early in the day so I could go around taking photos of the unique city life you can only find in Vegas. As usual, there were thousands of people milling around the strip. You had showgirls, drunken tourists, countless street performers, families, and much more. The one thing that I noticed on this particular day that was different was the unusual amount of metalheads roaming the city. Almost every restaurant, shop, or bar, that I passed I saw at least one individual wearing a black t-shirt bearing band names like: Ghost, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, and of course, Judas Priest. It was amazing to think how many leather rockin’, battle jacket wearing, long haired, pierced and tattooed mortals had come to pay homage to the Gods of Metal in the heart of sin city itself. How absolutely fitting.

I showed up to the venue just before showtime and immediately got in the merch line. Once I had loaded up on some 50th anniversary merch, I was off to find my seat. The capacity at Zappos Theater in Vegas is 7,000 people with wall-to-wall arena style seating. The seats filled quickly and at 8pm on the dot, the lights went dark and Queensrÿche took the stage. They opened with “Queen of the Reich”, which is the first song off the first EP they ever released back in 1983. This song has to be one of the best openers to get a crowd up and rockin’! The one thing that always seems to impress me about the 80’s heavy metal bands is the range the vocalists have. Todd La Torre blew my mind! His vocals were right up there with legends like Bruce Dickenson, and even Halford himself. Even more impressive was how long he could hold those high notes, and the vibrato that carried it. The guitarists were on fire! Every song was flawless, every solo was on point, you could tell that over 30 years of playing some of these songs hadn’t diminished their joy in doing so. Queensrÿche played a total of 12 songs, most of which being their hits that were released in the 80’s from their first three LP’s (The Warning, Rage For Order, Operation: Mindcrime). Whoever put the setlist together for this tour deserves a raise because almost every person in that 7,000 seat venue was up on their feet, head banging, and singing along. I don’t think you really could’ve picked a better opening band for Judas Priest. They closed out their set with “Eyes of a Stranger” off their 1988 album “Operation: Mindcrime”. This was a perfect way to end their night. If you’ve heard this song, then you know how great it is to sing along with. I feel like the openers job isn’t solely to get the crowd pumped up and excite them, it’s to prepare them, to put them in the perfect mood, and set the “emotional stage” if you will. Queensrÿche did exactly that! They came out and put everyone in the perfect mood for the hellions that were preparing to take the stage next.

After a short intermission the lights went down yet again. From the darkness above the stage appeared a massive, red, and glowing Judas Priest Cross with white spotlights that shone up to the ceiling. It steadily raised itself high above the stage as a slow creeping guitar riff played. The white spotlights faded until just the glowing cross was left. The intro to “One Shot at Glory” began to play and a single spotlight illuminated guitarist Richie Faulkner. In a blast of light Halford and the others were illuminated and for the next almost 2 hours we were in hands of the heavy metal Gods. I love the theatrics that come with the larger shows. Not just pyrotechnics or anything like that, but how every piece is carefully orchestrated from beginning to end. After “One Shot at Glory” they went into their hit song “Lightning Strike” off their 2018 album “Firepower”. They covered their biggest hits like Breaking the Law, You’ve Got Another Thing Coming, Turbo Lover, Painkiller, Living After Midnight, and my personal favorite, Electric Eye. During their set Halford went through 4 different outfit changes, all of which were completely custom made and of course, all leather. As always, one of the best moments of a Judas Priest concert is the moment Rob rides his Harley-Davidson, with a riding crop clutched tightly between his teeth, out on stage before they play the song “Hell-Bent For Leather”. I swear the crowd always loses their shit as soon as they see the smoke and hear the engine roaring. I think it is such an integral part of these concerts because it’s so…metal. The motorcycle embodies the escape, the individuality, and overall, the freedom that this lifestyle is based on. The escape from the mundane and the ordinary, the celebration of the individuality, and the freedom to be yourself in a world that demands conformity.

The best part of the night by far was during their 5-song encore. After playing Hell Bent for Leather, Glenn Tipton, longtime Judas Priest guitarist (1974-2018), took to the stage to play the last three songs with the band. Tipton left Judas Priest in 2018 after announcing that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Glenn has been known to still join the band on tour and jump on stage for the encores when he is feeling well enough to perform. It was hard for me not to tear up at the thought of it all. When we are young, we listen to these bands and in our minds they become heroes, they are indestructible, almost immortal. Nothing could ever happen to them, age isn’t real, they will always be playing these amazing songs and rocking stages for the rest of eternity. Unfortunately, reality is not so kind…we realize these are mortals, just like you and I. They are no less susceptible to death and disease than we are. The beauty of this situation rested in the fact that here we had this man, ravaged by a disease that affects the ability to maintain motor control, out here on stage shredding with accuracy and doing what he loves, showing the world that he would not be stopped. This display of relentlessness and strength was probably the most metal thing that happened all night.

Every song in the setlist was perfectly placed to keep the crowd going, and the end was no different. Priest closed out their set with “Living After Midnight”, an upbeat, catchy tune to send you home floating on cloud 9 with a nice little buzz. I imagine many a show goer swaggering drunkenly down the strip on the way back to their hotels whistling along to the chorus. After 50 years, hundreds of live performances, almost 20 full length albums, and numerous member changes, this band has weathered the test of time and come out on the absolute top. There is no doubt in my mind that these Heavy Metal gods will live on eternally in the music world. There will never be a band that challenges, or even threatens, their position. This band pioneered the way for the metal we enjoy today and nothing will ever change that. I am more than happy that I got to experience their greatness live more than once in my lifetime. They have about 14 more tour dates before heading out to raise hell overseas. If you think this is a tour you can afford to pass up this year, let me tell you…you’ve got another thing comin!

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