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JUDAS PRIEST, SAXON AND BLACK STAR RIDERS - Live in Oshawa (March 28/18)

Although there are often three bands on concert bills, it is a rare event where there is a legitimate triple threat of excellence to be taken in. This particular evening in Oshawa’s main hockey rink was just such a night.

The 2,500 or so fans in attendance were about half present when openers Black Star Riders took the stage at 7 pm sharp. BSR are the remains of the last (and final?) incarnation of Thin Lizzy, and are led by Lizzy guitar legend Scott Gorham and the last Lizzy vocalist, Ricky Warwick. Opening with the title track from their 2013 debut album, All Hell Breaks Loose, the band began a short set of original material, and one song from the Thin Lizzy era (Jailbreak). Although BSR are closer to hard rock than metal, there was more than enough musical muscle to win over the crowd (most of whom clearly didn’t know the band’s three excellent albums).

BSR’s set was energetic and showed off their deep musical skills, but the sound was slightly muddy right until the last song or two (which was odd, since the sound check sounded good in the arena bar before the show). Also, the band altered their set list, dropping two tracks from their sophomore album, the Killer Instinct, being the title track and Soldierstown, which were probably the highlights the night before in London, Ontario. Despite these slight disappointments, BSR delivered an excellent performance, concluding with the Celtic inspired Kingdom of the Lost and the reincarnated Lizzy sound of Bound for Glory.

Up next were New Wave of British Heavy Metal veterans Saxon. Making their second Southern Ontario appearance in a year after decades of neglect, these old school heavy metal legends were able to win over the crowd with relative ease. Vocalist Biff Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn are all who remain from the original 1977 lineup, but the remainder of the band have been around for 20 or 30 years, giving them longevity and legitimacy. Opening with the title track from their 2018 album Thunderbolt, the band mixed classics from the 80s (Power and the Glory, Motorcycle Man, Wheels of Steel) with other cuts from their latest offering (Nosferatu (the Vampire Waltz) and The Secret of Flight). The new tracks are surprisingly strong, and were right at home behind timeless anthems such as Dallas 1 p.m. and Denim and Leather.

Saxon were never considered a top tier heavy metal act in North America (as they truly were in the early 80s), so many in the crowd were likely getting their first taste of the band live. 40 years of non-stop touring and perfecting their stage presence had the audience responding with enthusiasm within a few songs. By the time the band closed with Heavy Metal Thunder from 1980’s Strong Arm of the Law opus, they received a well earned roar of approval from all in attendance.

Last up were Judas Priest, sans Glen Tipton who has retired from touring due to Parkinson’s disease. The absence of Tipton, which reduces the live band to two original members (vocalist Rob Halford and bassist Ian Hill), could have been a significant emotional let down for them and for the crowd. But Priest are touring on their strongest album in years, opening with the blistering title track, Firepower, and that added much needed energy on the stage and in front of it. New tracks such as Lightning Strike and Evil Never Dies were excellent new editions to the proceedings. Priest delved into the vaults to produce tracks rarely seen live, such as Running Wild from Hell Bent for Leather, or never seen live, such as Saints in Hell from Stained Class.

Rob Halford appears to be in better shape than he has been for years, and that is reflected in his strong vocal performance and improved stage presence. A decade ago on the Nostradamus tour, Halford sang the entire set bent over at a 90 degree angle, forcing his diaphragm to cooperate. Only rarely does he have to hunch over even a little these days, despite being past the legal retirement age. Lead guitarist Richie Faulkner, in his seventh year with the band and now the focus of the guitar attack, has come into his own and demonstrates on album and stage that he is the legitimate heir to the long retired KK Downing. Priest played all the usual “required” songs such as Hell bent for Leather, Electric Eye and You’ve Got Another Thing Coming, and their set list could use a little shake up in that regard. However, all in all, it was a triumph for a band whose best years are decades in the past.

Overall, it was a great night of noise in Oshawa. If your home town is on Priest and Co.’s tour itinerary, you won’t waste your money checking them out.

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