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Wednesday, September 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Concert review: The mighty Judas Priest puts on master class in metal at Northern Quest

UPDATED: Sat., June 22, 2019, 4:23 p.m.

Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford entertains the crowd at Northern Quest Resort & Casino on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford entertains the crowd at Northern Quest Resort & Casino on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

If you’re a fan of hard rock or heavy metal and are of a certain … experience level, just hearing the name Judas Priest elicits a visceral response. The seminal headbangers’ discography is a history lesson in the genre.

On Wednesday night at Northern Quest Casino and Resort’s amphitheater, Priest put on a master class in metal.

Folks were fired up before the show – and why not? These metal gods hadn’t played Spokane since Nov. 2, 1990, at the Boone Street Barn.

The band’s 18-song set, which lasted roughly 90 quickly-paced minutes, traversed nearly the entirety of their 18 studio albums across their 50-year career. Songs from 12 albums made the cut, from their second studio collection – 1976’s “Sad Wings of Destiny” – to their most current, 2018’s “Firepower,” which boasted the most selections with four.

Those of the near-capacity crowd that came to bask in power chord bathed nostalgia might have been – well, disappointed isn’t the right word, because it was an awesome heavy metal performance. But it appears the mighty Priest doesn’t wish to suffer the fate of so many ’60s and ’70s era acts, playing a greatest hits show night in and night out.

Priest appropriately enough got things started with the plodding (in a good way) “Necromancer,” off their well-reviewed latest album, and transitioned seamlessly into “Heading Out To The Highway,” off the band’s seventh studio album, “Point of Entry” from 1981 – the lone traditional MTV-era hit showcased during the main set.

What followed, despite the set list encompassing the band’s impressively long career, was a noticeable dearth of charted hits.

The most die-hard Priest fans in attendance knew every song – if not completely by heart, at least enough to scream along with the chorus.

But unlike the first legs of the “Firepower” tour, when the band played a set more familiar to the casual fan, this time out the veteran rockers left easily a dozen or so cuts off the list that helped make the band as famous and well-received as they always have been.

They packed the sing-alongs from the band’s heyday during the Reagan era in the three-song encore: “Hell Bent for Leather,” off the 1978 album of the same name (in the U.S, anyway) and their two most popular tracks from 1980’s “British Steel”: “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight.”

Priest’s lead singer, the inimitable Rob Halford, encouraged audience participation during the encore as he spoke-sang most of the lyrics for the last two songs and dropped out of the choruses practically altogether, despite being in full voice the rest of the evening.

At least Halford’s traditional stage ride on his custom Judas Priest Harley-Davidson endured.

Otherwise, the bulk of the set was comprised of songs off “Firepower,” hardcore fan favorites that don’t receive a lot of airplay on classic rock radio stations and even deeper album cuts that surely the most faithful Priest acolytes appreciated, including several songs the band hasn’t performed in decades until this tour.

If this review is starting to sound a bit harsh, let us get back on track.

Because the evening flat-out rocked – even if the rainy and downright cold conditions were less-than-ideal.

The band was simply terrific, even if Halford and bassist Ian Hill are the only remaining band members from the peak of Priest’s popularity.

Guitar masters Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, who popularized the band’s iconic twin guitar sound, are sadly both now retired – Downing left the band in 2011, and Tipton bowed out earlier this year due to advancing Parkinson’s disease.

In their place were Richie Faulkner, who signed on to replace Downing nearly a decade ago, and former Sabbat guitarist and producer Andy Sneap. Both players are more than capable musicians, but seemed out of place replicating Tipton and Downing’s signature synchronized swaying motions during dual solos – at least to the experienced observer.

The band was backed by veteran drummer Scott Travis, who has been with Priest since 1990.

And what’s to say about Halford? At 67, he still has more range and energy than men half his age. He paced and prowled continuously around the stage – whether growling or wailing into the microphone or not. He was a bit more reserved reaching to the heavens for the high notes, but still went up and got them when he needed to.

And he wasn’t messing around.

The band segued efficiently from song to song, and Halford didn’t even address the crowd directly with any between-song banter until nearly the end of the main set, when he thanked the “heavy metal community” for congregating, then introduced “No Surrender” from “Firepower,” with a nod to Tipton saying “Never give up, never give in, no surrender.”

During the following song, 1976’s “Victim of Changes,” vintage clips of Tipton playing with the band showed on the massive video screen at the back of the stage.

After the lively, hit-friendly encore finished and the sermon had ended, the band took its bows. Halford thanked the gathered masses once again and motioning to all as if to send a communal hug, said, “We are Judas (effing) Priest!”

Indeed.

Fuzzy: The only real qualm about the evening was with the in-house display. The high-definition video boards that flanked the stage were awesome, and video from the cameras near the stage were crystal clear. But whenever (limited) shots from the long camera from the back of the house displayed, the images were grainy and clearly inferior.

For starters: The evening kicked off with a nine-song set from veteran prog-rockers Uriah Heep, who will celebrate their 50th year in the biz next year. Their set concluded with their two most-popular songs in the States, “Stealin’ ” and “Easy Livin’.”

This post has been edited to reflect the correct name of drummer Scott Travis.

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