The mercurial Michael Schenker and his band faced a herculean task trying to squeeze almost 45 years of music into 45 minutes of gig space.
The choices might not have been to everyone’s taste but this was about as balanced a set list as he could have mustered: two UFO classics bookending one each from The Scorpions and MSG, and three from the Temple of Rock albums.
Opening up with ‘Doctor Doctor’ was a bold move. It worked beautifully by grabbing the instant attention of the massed Brixton Academy ranks. Scenes of simultaneous air-punching and pint-juggling abounded.
Schenker is the antithesis of a flashy guitar hero. Crouched uncomfortably over his ‘flying’ Dean, almost anonymised by a beanie pulled tight over his blond locks, Schenker hung out stage right for much of the set. Only for the closing ‘Rock Bottom’ did he move front and centre to serve it up to the punters.
Which is a shame because the crowd were on the band’s side tonight. Front man Doogie White knows how to work an audience and got everyone belting out all the words to ’Rock You Like A Hurricane’ and many of them to ‘Victim of Illusion’ with unbridled enthusiasm.
The rest of the band acquitted themselves well. Francis Buchholz and Herman Rarebell provided the stable rhythm platform that playing together for decades in The Scorpions brings. Buchholz is so lean and composed these days that he looks like a middle class tennis coach.
Ultimately though, it’s all about that man and the guitar. ‘Rock Bottom’ shouldn’t always be the defining moment of a Schenker show, but somehow it is. Tonight was no exception. Beautifully fluid playing, control of pace and power, extraordinary interplay with Wayne Findlay’s keys and enough spiralling and swooping twists to keep Alton Towers out of the news for another season.
I’d had my money’s worth already and the main event had not even begun. There wasn’t long to wait. ‘War Pigs’ boomed from the PA and every last Judas Priest fan in the building craned their neck skywards and hollered “Generals gathered in their masses, Just like witches at black masses”. The sense of anticipation was palpable.
The safety curtain dropped to reveal the band already in place, slamming down the first salvoes of ‘Dragonaut’ against a pyrotechnic video backdrop. A special cheer was reserved for Rob Halford who swaggered on to the stage clad in a floor-length leather coat and aviator sunglasses. The ornate cane he wielded completed the suggestion of a character plucked from deep within the warped imagination of Tim Burton.
‘Metal Gods’, the first of the Priest classics aired and ‘Desert Plains’ disappeared in a frenzy of squealing twin-guitar action, pumped up on a ferocious double bass drum drive. Only the chilling guitar harmonies that spelt the introduction of ‘Victim of Changes’ gave a chance to pause for breath.
Such a great song, the oldest in the setlist, and given the full kitchen sink treatment by Halford. At 64 grand old years of age, he was not stopping yet. There wasn’t a bum note, a missed wail or a shirked high note all night long.
Nor a dodged costume change for that matter. I lost count of the frock coats, tassled jackets and studded cloaks that the Priest front man donned in order to bring showbiz glamour to this aural assault.
The new material went down well. ‘Halls of Valhalla’ was particularly fine, with a murderous riff and proper shout-along chorus, accompanied by appropriate Viking imagery on the floor-to-ceiling screens.
Though already frenetic enough, the gig seemed to crank up another gear with, of all things, ‘Turbo Lover’. The studio album has never been cherished by die hards on account of its glam and poppy undertones, but this song has become a firm live favourite. The bass synth track seemed to shake the foundations of this venerable old venue and those massed voices of the crowd again, crying out the chorus with grins plastered right across their chops. This was pure theatre and suddenly everyone was revelling in it.
We were deep into the classics now. ‘Beyond The Realms of Death’ was suitably epic and saw an increasing amount of interplay within the band. New (ish) guitarist, Richie Faulkner was a breath of fresh air and provided a well-needed counterpoint to his opposite number, Glen Tipton’s more reserved approach. Faulkner was up on the speakers and in the crowd’s face every chance he could get. Eye-balling the audience and mouthing one-liners. He knows all the rock ‘n’ roll shapes when he slings down his speedy solos too. A natural successor to KK Downing.
‘Screaming For Vengeance’ was possibly the high point of the entire spectacle. A tour de force by Halford who spat out his own complex, angry lyrics like high velocity rifle shots over an insane guitar/drum chug. Faulkner was allowed to cut loose towards the end of song with the stage to himself for a set piece solo.
Riff-heavy ‘Breaking The Law’ and ‘Hell Bent For Leather’ closed the show proper. The latter saw Halford draped over a huge silver Harley that was ridden onto the stage in a cloud of dry ice and engine sound effects that wouldn’t be out of place at Cape Canaveral.
‘The Hellion’ on backing tape preceded ‘Electric Eye’ which seemed to take the crowd back up to fever pitch when doubled with ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Coming’.
There was barely a pause as the band left the stage to re-emerge moments later with ‘Painkiller’ powered by the remarkable Scott Travis and his speed metal drum tempo. And still he twirled his sticks between beats.
Back on the bike, Halford gave a rousing speech about the quality of British heavy metal before bringing the curtain down with ‘Living After Midnight’. Cue a full five minutes of applause. An entertaining, incredible gig full of fury, power, drama and showmanship. Judas Priest remain legitimate defenders of the faith.
Review by Dave Atkinson
Photos by Andy Nathan
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
Power Plays w/c 28 October (Mon-Fri)
COLLATERAL Mr Big Shot (Roulette Media Records)
BABY HUSBAND Stop Thinking About Tomorrow (indie)
OF ALLIES Off The Map (indie)
EXPLORING BIRDSONG The River (indie)
MARISA AND THE MOTHS – Slave (indie)
CATTLE AND CANE I Wish I Knew Jesus (Like I Do)
KING VOODOO Creep (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 28 October (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 UNRULY CHILD Big Blue World (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 REDLINE Gods & Monsters (Escape Music)
14:00-16:00 WILDWOOD KIN (Silvertone/Sony)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
MAGNUM Sleepwalking (1992)
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