A few days ago I received an email from Evan about the upcoming Judas Priest/Whitesnake show at the Hard Rock. Ticketmaster was offering tickets for free plus service charges (of course). He was looking to see if anyone else was interested. I checked it out and found out that the tour is the 30th Anniversary tour for the British Steel album, and they're playing the whole album every night. I couldn't miss that for virtually free.

Rapid Fire
Metal Gods
Breaking The Law
You Don't Have To Be Old To Be Wise
Living After Midnight
The Rage
The Ripper
Hell Patrol
Victim Of Changes

Freewheel Burning
Diamonds And Rust
You've Got Another Thing Comin'

This show broke a concert-going record for me, that for longest-time between two shows by the same band. Generally, if I see a particular performer multiple times, it tends to be on successive tours, or alternating tours. Some I see on as many tours as possible. Then, there are the oddballs. My previous record was 13 years, for The Flaming Lips. My first Lips show was when they were touring for Transmissions from the Satellite Heart in 1993, opening for the Butthole Surfers. I was really there to see the Surfers, but really enjoyed the Lips' set. For some reason, though, I never bought any of their records, and didn't seek them out again. Many years later, I heard some of their newer albums and started listening more actively to them. My second show was in 2006, just before I left New York. They played the New York State Fair with Sonic Youth and Ween. My third show was much sooner than my second. I saw them again on the same tour (for At War with the Mystics) in 2007 in Pompano Beach.

I first saw Judas Priest in January 1991, at the Broome County Arena in Binghamton, NY. They were touring for the Painkiller album, with Megadeth opening. This was my first arena show. I had previously only seen shows in local clubs or theaters. We made the trek to Bingo primarily to see Megadeth, but I had the latest Priest album and was looking forward to seeing them as well. They had recently hired drummer Scott Travis. The young drummer had energized the group and their tour was getting excellent reviews. I'd never been much of a fan. Although I liked a few of their songs, the records they'd released after I had begun buying metal albums (Turbo and Ram It Down) were underwhelming. Painkiller was different and I quite liked it.

The show opened with Rob Halford riding a motorcycle from underneath an enormous set of ramps behind and over Scott Travis. He shut the motorcycle off, leaving the headlight on and the band ripped into "Hell Bent for Leather." By the end of the song, the headlight had dimmed considerably and stagehands removed the bike. The remainder of the set was a mix of songs from Painkiller and their considerable back catalog. The band was tight, energetic (they spent much of the set running up and down the ramps) and, importantly, a lot of fun. I never ram out and bought up their back catalog, but I did gain an appreciation for some of those older albums and I have fond memories of that show.

Eighteen years later, I found myself in the upper deck of the Hard Rock waiting for Judas Priest to come on. The place was fairly empty when we arrived. Camera operators were stationed throughout the venue to record the show for a live DVD. I suspect that the free tickets (all to the upper deck, as far as I know) were to help fill the place up for better sound and better crowd sounds. Whitesnake canceled as singer David Coverdale has apparently wrecked his voice. No one we heard talking about it seemed too disappointed. I can't imagine the crossover between those two bands' fans is that great, so I was not surprised.

The group had a large banner with pictures of factories on in front of the stage. The show started with the sounds of hammers and machinery and a laser show(!) consisting of guys hammering metal. The pounding stopped and the band ripped into "Rapid Fire," with the banner dropping at Halford's first line of lyrics. The group on stage looked almost exactly the same as eighteen years earlier, albeit grayer (and balder in the cases of Halford and bassist Ian Hill). "Metal Gods" and "Breaking the Law" followed, and I guessed the band had decided to change the order of the album live. I found out later that they were playing the original UK track list of British Steel. Columbia Records changed the order for the American edition (as they did with all of Elvis Costello's early albums, so this is not much of a surprise).

They followed up with a curious collection of older songs, plus one from their recent concept album about Nostradamus. Most of the later part of the set was from the albums preceding British Steel rather than the 1980s albums with which I am more familiar, so I didn't really know that many of the songs. This did not deter from my enjoyment of the show, as they had already played what is largely considered their best album, and one of the two that I know reasonably well.

As for the performance, they were much as I remembered them, with a little less of the running around that they did on the Painkiller tour. Judging from some other live footage I saw on the internets, this may have been an anomaly of that particular tour, anyway. The band were still tight, energetic and a lot of fun. Yes, it's metal and some of the posing is a little silly, as are some of the lyrics (though Judas Priest's are better than most). But the mark of a great heavy metal band is that they help you forget your problems for 90 minutes and enjoy the show. For all of its pretension, the best metal bands know that they are entertainment (something many performers, particularly in other genres, have issues with) and give you an entertaining show for your money. Even if you pay full price. Judas Priest certainly lived up to my memories of seeing them all those years ago. These guys are my mother's age and still rock. That's an unqualified "rock," not "rock for old guys." The show was thoroughly enjoyable and may inspire me to buy up some of those other older albums, or possibly their recent box set.