The return of Judas Priest to Luxembourg was, as you might expect, an exciting prospect. Once their support act – who on the night proved even more redundant than expected – was announced, that excitement dissipated somewhat. Still, Judas Priest would be there no matter what.
Skipping straight to the main event therefore, the band launched into ‘Dragonaut’ once ‘Battle Cry’ had ended and the curtain dropped. Adding to the musicians’ performance came an array of CGI dragons(…) on big screens, and as soon as Halford appeared it was as if the messiah had arrived. Unfortunately, the largely mute audience which received the opener remained the same for ‘Metal Gods’. Sure, Rob’s vocals aren’t what they once were – unsurprising really – but how anybody, let alone almost an entire audience, can remain blank at such musical excellence is a mystery. In search of more action, a venture to the front of stage right proved just as unbelievably sterile. After the band’s performance here in 2008 I had no illusions that tonight would come anywhere close to the rabid Priest experience I was part of at the Astoria in 2001 but this scene was beyond perplexing.
Standing amongst a forest of static bodies and blank faces, the most I could bear was ‘Devil’s Child’ and ‘Victim of Changes’ in this position. It was impossible to imagine what was going through these people’s minds as they shelled out 50-plus euros on tickets for a Judas Priest gig. (On the other hand, I suppose at the very least they help to keep such bands on the road.) Deciding that a stiff drink was in order to tolerate the permeating weirdness – a characteristic I last encountered at ZZ Top last year – a place near the back of the venue seemed as relevant as anywhere else to stand. And as the ‘Nosferatu’-footage-enhanced ‘Love Bites’ was banged out, things did at least become a bit more distracting and enjoyable. But, somewhat surprisingly, the first track to elicit concerted chants of “Priest!” from the few hundred enthusiasts directly in front of the stage was ‘Redeemer of Souls’.
For me, tonight was all about the old stuff I’d not seen live before. First on the list, following ‘Love Bites’, was a spot-on ‘Turbo Lover’. Yet even this was eclipsed by ‘Beyond the Realms of Death’, which I certainly hadn’t seen Priest perform with Halford before. Backed up by some neat cosmic footage, it was certainly the highlight of the night – especially when Glen Tipton’s excellent solo work is taken into consideration. Coincidentally around this point, my vodka/energy drink appeared to be kicking in nicely. Despite nodding your head or tapping your foot being tantamount to committing an atrocity judging by tonight’s participation standards, it was simply time to give less of a shit and start losing my voice. ‘Jawbreaker’ was the first sing-along for this disgruntled punter, followed by ‘Breaking the Law’ and then ‘Hellbent for Leather’.
As the night wore on, however, even the anthemic likes of ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Coming’ and closer ‘Living After Midnight’ failed to provoke the expected sing-along from this massively comatose hall. At the end of the day, any number of reasons could be attributed to this phenomenon, seemingly endemic to metal gigs at the purpose-built Rockhal: the midweek time slot, people having to drive, diverse nationalities ill at ease away from their home environment, the semi-cavernous nature of the venue, and so on… To me, the cause has no definitive answer. All I can hope (and am sure is happening) is that everywhere else they go, Priest are getting the appropriate response. They were damn cool but it sure didn’t feel like a gig. If anything it was more of a curio, through no fault of their own.