Concert Review: Judas Priest @ Family Arena

Judas Priest’s Epitaph Tour with Black Label Society and Thin Lizzy at The Family Arena

By Matt Albers

            At times, the Family Arena in St. Charles, MO may seem like a third wheel of a concert venue for the St. Louis area. Its size, capacity and location make it appear as if it may be unnecessary among its competitors like Scottrade Center and The Pageant, or even Pop’s during the spring and summer seasons when it sometimes books concerts outdoors. However, without the Family Arena, St. Louis music fans may not get the opportunity to see some traveling acts, especially in the metal and hard rock crowd.

With bands fluctuating in popularity all the time, the Family Arena can be the perfect size for shows that may be too big for Pop’s or The Pageant but too small for Scottrade Center. Factor in the seemingly open-mindedness of those in charge of booking at the arena and you begin to realize how important it is as bands and tours now have the reason and opportunity to stop in the St. Louis area. Bands including Godsmack, Avenged Sevenfold, Five Finger Death Punch, Hollywood Undead and even Tool have all either headlined or co-headlined a date of a tour at the Family Arena, and some acts, like Judas Priest, have now even found a home there and return to the smaller-sized arena stage just across the Missouri River.

After playing the Family Arena in summer 2009 with Whitesnake, Judas Priest returned to the venue in November 2011 as part of their Epitaph Tour, claimed to be their “farewell tour,” with opening acts Black Label Society and Thin Lizzy. Judas Priest had further explained that this tour would actually not mark the band’s final tour before a break up, but more of a final, long-running area tour that would leave the band to play strictly festivals and other special occasions. Furthermore, the band has also admitted that they have new material written and plan on recording and releasing a new album.

Priest’s almost three hour set at the Family Arena would indeed prove to be fulfilling for all fans young and old, but showcase maybe a little more age than just experience, although at first, the two opening acts for this tour may have sounded a bit out of place. After the show however, it was clear that Black Label Society and Thin Lizzy were the perfect choices as openers to the legendary and iconic Judas Priest. Even with the added members to Thin Lizzy’s lineup to compensate for the lack of original, founding or long-lasting members, their live sound and stage presence demanded the crowd’s attention and appreciation, if not enthusiasm, at least until their predictable closing song of “The Boys Are Back in Town” hooked nearly every audience member.

Next was Black Label Society, whose sound probably stood out as the most different by comparison to the other two acts, but their obvious influence by the sound that band like both Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy have produced still tied them closely to the vibe of the bill and the demographic of most Judas Priest fans. Their set consisted of some of their best songs and most famous songs, including “Suicide Messiah,” “Concrete Jungle,” and “Fire It Up,” which not only began with stage hands throwing many large Black Label Society beach balls into the crowd, but also lead into Zakk Wylde’s obligatory guitar solo which, while fun, impressive and downright essential for any set featuring Zakk Wylde, seemed to drag out and sounded more repetitive than impressive. Fortunately, the showmanship and crowd control from Wylde and company made their set enjoyable and worthy of appreciation.

Finally, with a house of fans eagerly anticipating the headliner, Judas Priest took the stage with as much full force as a band nearly forty years old could which, as it turns out, can be surprisingly a lot. Even with their latest lineup addition Richard Faulkner, who replaced guitarist K. K. Downing upon his departure in April 2011, Judas Priest delivered a fulfilling show to their fans, complete with all the elements one would come to expect from the band. An extravagant stage show consisting of various pyrotechnical effects and diverse stage props used throughout the night well-accented the performance with an almost three-hour set spanning their entire career and playing songs from each of their studio albums, from 1974’s Rocka Rolla all the way to 2008’s Nostradamus, which was further commemorated by their onstage projector which, when not displaying image affects, displayed the cover art for the respective albums of what each song was being played.

Although the entire experience of this all-encompasing live show was impossible not to enjoy, certain aspects of their performance were negative, especially to any nitpickers that may have been in the crowd. While much of Priest’s live music and performances were spot-on, some recurring factors may have become annoying to fans, like drummer Scott Travis constantly throwing his drumsticks up in the air, only to fail to catch them half the time. Throughout the night, vocalist Rob Halford would walk off stage to make a slight wardrobe change. When he would do this, he would still perform his vocal duties offstage, but constantly not seeing him on stage while still hearing his voice ended up being rather confusing to the audience. Most disappointing was probably when, instead of singing, Halford turned the microphone on the stand to face the audience, having them provide all the vocals for “Breaking the Law” while he and the rest of the band jammed and mugged to the audience. Though a clever demand of crowd participation, this was an obvious clue that at least Halford, if not all of Priest, were tired of performing certain songs that had become a staple of their career. In their defense, forty years of the same thing would most likely yield that result even to the best of us.

Above all the nitpicking, Judas Priest’s Epitaph Tour at the St. Charles Family Arena was still a strong success. The opening acts strongly complimented the headliner and even without K. K. Downing, Priest clearly put a lot of effort all-around in delivering a unique and high-quality show experience for their fans, young and old. This tour may have been branded as a “farewell” tour, but with their obvious strong integrity and dedication to their music and their fans, not to mention talks of a new album in the works, it is evident that the mighty Priest still has a good deal of fight left in them, and any metal fan or musician worth their weight in studded leather would give the band their just credit as well as do themselves a favor and see this iconic and important band live.

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