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Judas Priest Brings 50 Heavy Metal Years and Almost as Many Leather Jackets to the Armory

You may think you're hell-bent for leather but you will NEVER be as hell-bent for leather as Rob Halford.

Judas Fucking Priest
Courtesy of the artist

There are two things you need to know about Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford. One is that after 50 years of making heavy metal, his voice is still by far the single best instrument in the genre. And two: That man has a lot of leather jackets. 

Both Halford’s stunning vocal abilities and his impressive wardrobe were on full display during the Priest’s Thursday night show at the Armory.

As part of the band’s 50 Heavy Metal Years tour, Halford and Co. (guitarists Richie Faulkner and Andy Sneap, drummer Scott Travis, and bassist Ian Hill) delivered what every Judas Priest fan expects from a Judas Priest show—a career-spanning setlist, spectacular visuals, and that voice.

But before we get to that, we have to talk about the night’s opening act, Sabaton.

I’ll start by saying that Sabaton is really good at what they do, and because of that, they’ve built a wildly dedicated and loyal fanbase all over the world. I’ll finish by saying that I’m absolutely not part of that fanbase and really don’t enjoy what they do. 

Hailing from Sweden, Sabaton plays their own brand of war-infused power metal. No exaggeration—every song is about war. Hell, they even dedicated a song to WWII during their set. This band seemingly eats, breathes, and sleeps war. Their drummer sat atop a full-sized tank drum riser, the backdrop behind them on stage depicted a WWI battle scene, and their mic stands had machine guns and helmets on them. And obviously, the entire band was wearing camo. If you ask me, that’s an awful lot of war imagery for a band from a mostly neutral country. 

Ok, that’s enough about Sabaton. On to the main event: Judas Fucking Priest.

As the house music died down, the room suddenly exploded with the sounds of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” as a massive three-pronged devil’s cross (Priest’s symbol) rotated down from the ceiling. It lit up red, and “War Pigs” slowly bled into Priest’s instrumental “Battle Hymn.” The band emerged and immediately went into “One Shot at Glory” as Halford’s gold-sequined, fringed leather shimmered with the strobe lights.

For the next hour and a half, Judas Priest showed us exactly why they’re still going strong after 50 years. From Halford’s first note to the final moments of the encore’s closer (“Living After Midnight”), that voice effortlessly switched from his signature falsetto full of vibrato to his much lower and throatier growl.

But it wasn’t just Halford’s talents on display. Each member of Judas Priest showcased their musicianship throughout the night. For drummer Scott Travis, that moment was “Painkiller.” As the rest of the band left the stage following the final notes of “Invader,” the spotlight was on Travis. Following some brief banter about how Minneapolis is one of Judas Priest’s favorite cities to play (something he definitely doesn’t tell every city), he asked the crowd, “What do you want to hear?”

“PAINKILLER!”

Travis’s drums erupt. The guitars and bass join. Then Halford. If there’s a single song in Priest’s repertoire that perfectly showcases the immense talent of each member, it’s “Painkiller.” Complex drums, two complicated guitar solos, high-pitched falsettos, and a full six minutes of unrelenting and lightning-fast rhythm guitar and bass.

Visually, Judas Priest delivered on all fronts. In addition to the toxic waste dump/nuclear power plant motif onstage, a massive screen played different visuals that changed from song to song. We went from burning buildings during “One Shot at Glory” to lightning strikes during “Lightning Strike” to a car chase during “Turbo Lover” to a UFO invasion during “Invasion.” (Man, some of these are really on the nose). 

While Halford had minimal stage banter, he had maximal wardrobe changes. By my count, he donned an impressive eight different jackets throughout the 19-song set. They ranged from the flashy (the aforementioned gold-sequined fringe and the fully sequined floor-length duster) to the more subdued (a more lowkey studded motorcycle jacket) to the not leather at all (denim, obviously). But the most impressive jacket swap of the evening came before “Hell Bent for Leather.” Now, if you write a song with that title, you damn well better prove that you are, in fact, hell-bent for leather.

After the band wrapped up the first song of the encore (“Electric Eye”), the stage went briefly dark. The only sounds were the sudden rev of a motorcycle. And then, on stage rode Halford aboard his Harley. He was, of course, wearing a leather motorcycle jacket with a matching leather cap (a la Tom of Finland). But what really tied the outfit together was the leather riding crop clamped between his teeth. As the rest of the band joined him back on stage, they went into the song, but Halford never got off the bike. Instead, he belted out the entire song in the saddle, leather touching leather. Occasionally, he used the crop on Richie Faulkner during his guitar solo. 

If there was ever any doubt, it’s long gone: Halford is hell-bent as hell for leather.

“Hell Bent” ended, and the next riff began. It was the riff. The one that’s been perfected at Guitar Centers everywhere for the past 40 years: “Breaking the Law.”  The stage went dark yet again and began to fill with smoke. A massive bull with red glowing eyes emerged through the smoke. Halford took this opportunity to change yet again (this time to a sleeveless, floor-length denim duster) and appeared back on stage to perform the band’s final song of the evening: “Living After Midnight.”

As the encore wrapped up, Halford thanked everyone for continuing to support Judas Priest all these years. He urged everyone to keep the metal scene together and to keep the metal mania going. He then reminded us of something we’d never dare forget.

“We are Judas Fucking Priest. Goodnight.”

Setlist

Battle Hymn
One Shot at Glory
Lightning Strike
You’ve Got Another Thing Coming
Freewheel Burning
Turbo Lover
Hell Patrol
The Sentinel
A Touch of Evil
Rocka Rolla
Victim of Changes
Desert Plains
Blood Red Skies
Invader
Painkiller

Encore

Electric Eye
Hell Bent for Leather
Breaking the Law
Living After Midnight

Sabaton Rant, Continued

Look, all I’m saying is that it’s pretty fucking weird when you’re whole band comes out in gas masks immediately after a sound clip about how gas is the best way to kill people plays. It’s especially weird after you just dedicated a song to world war fucking two. That’s all I’m saying. It’s weird. I guess Joakim gets some extra points for managing to sing while wearing said gas mask, but it’s still weird as hell. I’m starting to think this band likes war almost as much as they like not paying taxes.