Judas Priest & Michael Schenker @ 02 Apollo
Sometimes life with Manchester Rocks is tough. Having to review some of your favourite bands of all time by gaining free access into some of our city's finest venues can be such a bind at times. I force myself to do this though because nothing brings me greater joy than giving you, our lovely readers, an insight into our glorious and rich Mancunian music scene. You sir/madam are welcome.
Tonight it's Judas Priest at the Apollo. The legendary Brummie metal pioneers return to Manchester after 6 years away with new LP Redeemer of Souls to promote as well as a huge back catalogue of classic metal that's sure to get heads banging' in true Beavis and Butthead stylee. "Breakin' the law, breakin' the law!" Uh, huh. Huh. Huh.
Blonde bomber, aka Michael Schenker with his Temple of Rock that also features former Scorpions bandmate Herman 'ze German' Rarebell on drums, opens the show with style with their version of Doctor, Doctor from one of Schenker's former bands UFO. It's a stirring start and brilliantly played but for me only goes to highlight how weak there own material is. Bear in mind that it's just my opinion, and I'm sure lots of people loved it, but it all sounds a little dated to me. It's the kind of rock that would've sounded great in 1984 but in 2015 sounds a little out of time. It's certainly well played and singer Doogie White has a fair set of pipes, so this is far from a critique of their musicianship, I mean let's face it Schenker is one of the world's greatest guitar players. But, really it's the Scorpions Rock You Like a Hurricane and UFOs Rock Bottom that get the biggest cheers - Schenker's solo on this is beautiful and far more authentic than the version you get from Vinnie Moore in UFOs current incarnation.
An industrial landscape coats the draped curtain that masks the road crew setting up, emblazoned with the legend: Welcome to the home of British steel. It's a not too subtle nod to the darkness and noise of the Black Country that birthed the first children of heavy metal. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest are all products of this environment, directly affected by a singular need to escape the confines of a claustrophobic childhood, break their chains and change the world of music. Heavy metal began as working class and will continue to speak in that language.
As the curtain drops, Dragonaut from Redeemer of Souls flies forth and screens behind the band flicker into life with flames and dragons. Rob Halford's very appearance on stage is enough to elicit ecstatic screams from the mob and as they launch into Metal Gods, a marching robot army graces the displays. Halford imitates them striding to the front of the stage to ask if we are ready. Indeed we are, metal legend.
Victim of Changes sounds epic as new guitarist Richie Faulkner takes centre stage with KK Downing for the harmonised intro. Co-ordinated headbanging is the order of the day here but it's mainly Faulkner that takes it to the crowd. He is a constant presence at the front, head to toe in studs and always signaling the audience to be louder. Oh, scream from Halford on this nearly burst my ear-drums! Following Ian Hill’s reggae tinged bass intro of The Rage, Turbo Lover is Americanised-pop dog shit to my ears but I'm the only one here who thinks so, I reckon, as it gets an astounding response with the audience feverishly singing every word as I cringe in my seat. Beyond the Realms of Death rescues me.
Rob Halford is on fine form tonight with a scream that can still strip wallpaper. He has a jacket for every song it seems and the first line of every number seems to be sang off stage as he changes. His movements are faintly robotic with flared pantaloons draped over enormous metal boots and coloured lights reflect from a smooth shiny dome-like head. And as the artwork for British Steel flickers onto the display he launches into Breaking the Law to the delight of the Manchester Apollo crowd.
No Priest show would be complete without the Harley Davidson set-piece and as the sound of rumbling engines roar from the PA we all know what to expect. Hell Bent For Leather storms forth as Halford spanks his bike (not a euphemism) with a riding crop, replete in leather cap and trench-coat.
Drummer Scott Travis provides the unmistakable intro for 1990 classic Painkiller and features note perfect, dueling solos from Faulkner and Tipton in a thrilling live attack. Ending with Priest anthem to a hedonist lifestyle, Living After Midnight concludes the night’s party with an inevitable crowd sing-a-long.
It’s another rainy night in Manchester but the warmth from seeing one of the legends of our genre should suffice till we get home. This evening has been a fist-pumping ride through some of the greatest metal hymns ever written. So if you worship heavy metal then you must all hail the Priest.
Words: Paul Cooke | Photos: Wendy Keogh