Rock will never die is an oft quoted phrase. In recent days I've seen a band in their late 60’s, the Scorpions produce one of the slickest displays I've ever seen. I unfortunately missed one of the gigs of the year from a younger band (Clutch in Bristol) due to fatigue and illness, but was sufficiently recovered to travel with the family to Wolverhampton Civic Hall to catch two more of the old guard, Michael Schenker and his Temple of Rock and one of the UK’s definitive heavy metal bands, the British Steel of Judas Priest.
Wolverhampton on a school night is always a difficult gig to make and with doors at 7:00pm for a 7:45pm start we were up against it. The usual heavy City centre traffic meant that at 5:45pm we were not even hitting the M4 but a combination of luck and reduced traffic for the rest of the trip meant we arrived in the Black Country with a chance of catching Mr Schenker and crew. Unfortunately, as we arrived at the Civic Hall, a combination of limited car parking options and increased security meant that although we heard the strains of Doctor Doctor as we drove slowly past the entrance, we didn't actually make it into the very dated Civic Hall until about 8:10pm. The main auditorium is a rectangular concert hall with sweeping balconies running around the top. A pretty full crowd were watching Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock (7) in full swing as we entered with Lord Of The Lost And Lonely from the band’s latest release. With a mere six songs in their set, watching Metal Mickey and co. was always going to be just an aperitif. I've seen Schenker many times over the years, most recently at Steelhouse (2013) and Hard Rock Hell last year where the band was on fire as they turned in stunning headline sets. Anyway, a rendition of Rock You Like A Hurricane (second version in five days – both Schenker’s too!) got the crowd singing along before the extended version of UFO’s classic Rock Bottom, complete with that solo which was worth the admission price alone. I'm unashamed to say that I would rank Michael Schenker in my top three favourite guitarists of all time (Alex Lifeson and Randy Rhoads are the other two) and his control, emotion and feeling is just brilliant. A decent response from the crowd as the band departed and just a bit of disappointment that the band are not playing anywhere near home on their January tour.
The temperature increased as the floor became a little more crowded and the curtain with the grim industrial image of the Midlands in the 1970s, complete with the legend “Welcome to the home of British Steel” covered the stage. The timeless War Pigs wailed out of the PA system, ensuring a mass sing-along as you’d expect in this part of the world. Lights dimmed, Battle Cry rang out, curtain dropped and the metal gods hit the stage with the opener from Redeemer Of Souls, the awesome Dragonaut. It’s always struck me that Judas Priest (9) has never received the recognition they deserve. Over forty years in the business, more classic tracks that you could ever need, and an ethos which follows one path – British Heavy Metal. Why shite like Five Finger Death Punch can sell out Wembley Arena whilst the Priest is delivering the goods in cramped into smaller auditoriums is a mystery to me.
Stalking the stage in a variety of leather regalia, lead singer Rob Halford, the true metal god who easily demonstrated why he is such a fucking legend. As Metal Gods moved into a rare outing for Desert Plains (From Point Of Entry) Halford’s voice hit every note and his screams are as piercing and true as they were in the late 1970s. Camp as fuck, the man deserves the respect he receives and just his presence on the stage was incredible. He’s one metal star I’d enjoy having a beer with. On either side of the stage, the twin guitar work of Glenn Tipton (incredibly 68 years old) and youngster but now fully established band member Richie Faulkner shredded, sliced and general ripped things up. A well-paced Victim Of Changes was immense, before another newie Halls Of Valhalla led to another rarity, The Rage from British Steel. Meanwhile, the band had also invested in an excellent light show and some more interesting backdrops, with screens playing various themed videos which matched the track and often provided the album cover from which the song was taken.
They say in football that a good referee is one that you don’t see on the pitch. Whilst Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis are clearly visible, most of the attention when watching Priest is focused on the other band members and you tend to miss the real powerhouse of the band, Hill stage left pounding away on his bass whilst Travis just makes drumming look so easy.
The fast and furious pace of Turbo Lover encouraged all to join in, even yours truly who really struggles to like the song before Redeemer Of Souls led to a chillingly beautiful Beyond The Realms Of Death. It was magnificent and paved the run in perfectly. A blistering Screaming For Vengeance was followed by the staple Breaking The Law before the arrival of the bike, and Halford donning the full Blue Oyster Bar outfit, leather cap and crop included as the main set ended with Hell Bent For Leather. Encore number one: The Hellion straight into Electric Eye. There is no better heavy metal moment than this live. Halford then turned ring master with a vocal challenge to the crowd before leading into an extended You've Got Another Thing Coming, complete with Faulkner guitar solo. Inevitably the final two tracks were straight from the script, Travis’ pounding the intro to a vicious Painkiller before the band brought an excellent performance to a close with Living After Midnight and a set that would absolutely destroy the Sunday night at BOA. (No such luck with Slayer being announced in the interim)
So, rock will never die? Maybe not, but you do wonder what happens when such legends as Priest and Sabbath finally hang up their leathers. As the time for that inevitably draws closer, the pups of metal really need to step up to the plate. At present, the dinosaurs still totally rule the earth.