After Ozzy Osbourne cancelled his NZ shows due to pneumonia, British heavy metal giants Judas Priest decided to carry on with their first ever New Zealand tour and deliver their brand of classic metal along with Halestorm for support. In other words, metal and rock fans got to experience two of the most distinct and influential voices in rock music today i.e. Rob Halford and Lzzy Hale at the Spark Arena in Auckland, NZ last night.
Metal and rock fans of all ages were clad in black, many with Slayer and Anthrax tees from the night before filled the Spark Arena in theatre mode, which gave the option to stand and mosh or sit and rock.
With both hands in horns raised up high, Lzzy Hale led Halestorm onto the Arena stage. She thanked everyone for coming to the show and loudly proclaimed that in light of everything that has happened in NZ recently “Love always wins’, before literally kicking off the opening set in her sequinned black and red flared trousers and platform shoes.
Black Vultures from latest album Vicious immediately showcased lead guitar riffs from Joe Hottinger, pelting drums from Arejay Hale and a driving bassline from Josh Smith. However, it was still Lzzy Hale’s impressive voice that stood out prominently… from snarling growls to full on roars that shatter the smoky decorum.
The Grammy Award-winning track, Love Bites (So Do I) and Mz. Hyde from second album The Strange Case Of… was played in succession, followed by Amen from Into the Wild Life which showcased an impressive bluesy guitar solo by Hottinger.
A double whammy followed next where Lzzy showed off her vocal range as well as her strength as a lyricist in the brief a capella interlude of I Get Off (first single from their self-titled debut LP), “You don't know that I know / You watch me every night / And I just can't resist the urge / To stand here in the light…”
Lzzy’s powerful vocal cords stretched certain notes before she nicely jumped into the cheeky latest single Do Not Disturb.
“Let's take our clothes off / I wanna show you my hidden tattoo / That nobody ever gets to see but you do…”
Yes, the night was off to a hot start and the Vicious rock star won quite a few new fans with this seductive track, I wager.
Before Freak Like Me, the younger Hale sibling, Arejay showed off his drumming skills in an extended solo ending with the use of oversized drum sticks (?!) This brief ‘comic relief’ reminded me of Steve Adler… his mischievous nature and boyish charm. Let’s hope Arejay’s drumming career (and health) fare better than the former Guns N’ Roses drummer in the years to come.
This writer enjoyed Halestorm’s opening set and can see that the band has certainly come a long way… amassing more confidence and experience by being one of the most hard-working bands on the international tour circuit. Unfortunately, there were some technical glitches that hampered the performance; the bass guitar wireless transmitter failed at one point and the sound mix was way too bright for comfort, especially from the drums and cymbals. Nonetheless, Lzzy Hale is certainly a singer-songwriter and performer who has tremendous potential and well on her way to scaling greater heights.
After a brief interlude of War Pigs over the speakers, drummer Scott Travis was the first on stage to get comfortable at his drum kit before Richie Faulkner laid out the first guitar riff, quickly followed by Andy Sneap on the second guitar and Ian Hill on bass for the first song of the night, Delivering The Goods from fifth studio album, Killing Machine in 1978, instead of Firepower (which started the band’s earlier shows). It was good to see the band mindful of the Firepower song’s references to guns and violence and choice to remove it from the night’s show. This was the first of a few subtle changes to the band’s usual arrangement in light of the recent tragedies that happened in New Zealand the day before.
Rob Halford led the band into Running Wild with his distinct falsetto scream before greeting the crowd and getting everyone ready for more “Judas Priest style Heavy Metal”, nicely setting the way for another gem from way back - Sinner, from third studio album Sin After Sin (1977). Seeing and hearing Halford's vocals tear and scream through the verses and chorus was staggering… and how about that searing guitar solo by Faulkner at the end?
Richie Faulkner effortlessly took on more lead guitar duties after bandmate Glenn Tipton announced his inability to play and tour due to Parkinson's disease. British record producer and guitarist Andy Sneap (Sabbat, Hell) stepped in to replace Tipton on tour after co-producing Judas Priest’s eighteenth studio album, Firepower in 2018. The interplay between Faulkner and Sneap throughout the show was certainly a highlight and demonstrated why the twin-guitar sounds of early Judas Priest were a major influence on heavy metal music.
Bassist Ian Hill kept to the back of the stage, hoisting his bass guitar up and down while keeping time and now remains the only member who has recorded on all albums by Judas Priest.
Scott Travis’ drumming was exceptional, especially in songs from latest LP, Lightning Strike, No Surrender and Rising From Ruins. His drumming style from Racer X has certainly taken Judas Priest up a few levels.
Hit after hit took the audience higher and higher as the Priest rode back in time through their catalogue… Desert Plains (1981’s Point of Entry), Turbo Lover (1986’s Turbo) and their well-known cover of Fleetwood Mac’s The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown). A mix of video footage and 80s style pop art with bright fluorescent colours added a brilliant visual element to the classic metal soundtrack. But, it was at this part of the night where this writer started to notice some audio issues with Halford’s mic. His voice would often fade in and out, diluting and masking the full impact of his dynamic range.
Before the concert, Halford attended the friendly climate change gathering and walk at downtown Auckland. He shared videos and photos showing his love for NZ on his social media pages. One cannot help but respect this self-made rock legend. In a way, Judas Priest stayed relevant for more than five decades partly because themes and imagery of their music reflected that of the hardworking man and woman. From humble beginnings, the band shed blood, sweat and tears… working with the likes of Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Roger Glover (Deep Purple) and more to finally become Metal Gods.
Night Comes Down was the first rock ballads of the night and this song showed both the good and not-so-good part of the band’s performance… a whole lot of good in the form of Halford’s vocal strength and the twin-guitar combined solos from Faulkner and Sneap. But unfortunately, Halford’s mic volume issues had not gone away and might have caused him to wander a bit off-key.
But, the most emotional part of the performance was during the second ballad, Rising From Ruins where Halford sang to all New Zealand while waving a torch (in the form of a lit light-sabre)... words of encouragement and solidarity to overcome one of the darkest times in the nation’s history.
"We're standing as one / We're carrying on / Rising from Ruins
We're bringing the lights / Out from the nights / Rising from Ruins"
The whole stadium joined in to sing the powerful chorus and the song ended with spotlights converging on Rob Halford’s raised sabre with the words ‘Kia Kaha’ (stay strong) over the nation’s colours on the big screen. Many long-haired hardcore metal men and women unabashedly wiped tears from their eyes.
One cannot do a review of a Judas Priest show without mention of Halford’s multiple leather jacket 'changes' throughout the show. Staying true to his love for leather and studs, Halford wore a series of knee-length outfits with frills, chain-mail, glitter and always… always with studs and sequins here and there and of course, black leather gloves. Here was the heavy metal Lagerfeld or Lacroix who started a global fashion trend that lasted until the present day. Hell Bent for Leather was and will always be the anthem for loyal metal fans who have their own weathered and well-used leather attire. How best to celebrate this than Halford riding onto the stage on a motorcycle, with a black leather cap, studded jacket and a bullwhip clenched in his teeth. This is classic heavy metal, boys and girls!
Painkiller ended the show for the night after a brief ‘tease’ by Scott Travis from his drum kit but the band was immediately back for an encore of classics with Electric Eye, Metal Gods before whipping the whole stadium into a frenzy with Breaking the Law and Living After Midnight.
Unfortunately, the overall sound mix at the Spark Arena was less favourable to what this writer heard the night before at the lesser-known Eventfinda Stadium (formerly known as the North Shore Events Centre) with thrash metal legends, Slayer and Anthrax. The inconsistent mic levels and brightness of the overall sound failed to bring the full audio might of Judas Priest onto the Auckland stage.
However, one must shelve all complaints brutally aside after two nights of metal in the form of Slayer and Anthrax the night before... followed by Judas Priest with Halestorm. Many were delighted that Judas Priest stayed their course to perform in New Zealand, allowing metal fans to celebrate songs that were huge inspirations to other metal and rock bands and the rare chance to witness two of rock music’s prominent voices; Rob Halford and Lzzy Hale.
Adorn and proudly wear your leather metal fans... help the nation stay strong and rise from the ruins inflicted by hate and discrimination.