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THE METAL MASTERS TOUR: JUDAS PRIEST ARE AWESOME, HEAVEN & HELL ARE AWESOMER

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In 2004, the Painkiller-era Judas Priest line-up reunited and blew Black Sabbath off the stage at Ozzfest, so I supposed it’s only fair that in 2008, Sabbath should return the favor on the Metal Masters tour.

Of course, swapping out Ozzy Osbourne for Ronnie James Dio didn’t hurt.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve spent many more hours of my life listening to Ozzy-era Sabbath than Dio-era Sabbath. But as demonstrated at New Jersey’s PNC Banks Arts Center this past Saturday night, time has been as good to the 66 year old Dio as it has been bad to the 59 year old Ozzy: for one thing, the elvish legend Dio can still move around the stage rather than just clap his hands and occasionally do a frog hop, and for another thing, Dio’s voice still sounds fucking fantastic. Ozzy was never, technically speaking, a great singer, but now that he has to cancel every third performance due to losing his voice, Dio’s abilities just seem that much more impressive.

The other members of this incarnation of Sabbath – now, of course, known as “Heaven & Hell” – must be aware of what a force Dio makes them, because they seemed downright reinvigorated since Vince and I last saw them play with Ozzy – not only did Geezer Butler do some headbanging, but Tony Iommi actually moved, walking around the stage as he ripped through awesome extended solo after awesome extended solo. Sure, Bill Ward wasn’t on hand to participate, but who gives a shit? Vinny Appice is the fucking MAN, and his performance was nothing short of mind-blowing. It takes some balls to give your drummer time to solo when your set is only an hour and you’re not even the proper headliner, but Appice more than earned his moment in the spotlight. Situated behind a ginormous kit that surrounded him on all sides, there wasn’t a moment when he wasn’t absolutely slaying.

By the time H&H were done for the night, after blowing through every Dio-era Sabbath classic from “Mob Rules” to “Children of the Sea” to “Die Young” to “Heaven and Hell” to “I” and even fucking “Time Machine” from Dehumanizer, the crowd chanted for an encore – and booed when they didn’t get one. This band could have kept playing all night and no one would have left their seat. All of these guys are in the AARP, and yet they’re all as skilled as they ever were – like the anti-Metallica, they’re proof that getting old doesn’t mean you have to get lame.

After a fairly quick turn-around, Judas Priest hit the stage. They were, by no stretch of the imagination, bad, and they clearly still know how to put on a great show – the synchronized headbanging, Harley on stage, and ridiculous costumes are still part of the concert – they just couldn’t match Heaven & Hell’s jam band joie de vivre. Rob Halford’s voice still sounds awesome, but his somewhat bizarre habit of hunching over and singing to the floor sometimes made him seem disengaged from the audience he was there to entertain. Still, you’d have to be dead not to enjoy set highlights like “The Green Manalishi,” “Devil’s Child” and “Painkiller” (There was also the obligatory inclusion of radio hits like “Hell Bent for Leather” and “You Got Another Thing Coming” – not that I’m complaining.).

Alas, we missed openers Testament, which is fine since we’ve seen them multiple times in the past year, but we did arrive at the venue in time to check out the second half of Motorhead’s set. They played pretty much everything you’d expect, and I don’t think Lemmy actually moved once. Not that anyone in the crowd actually seemed to care.

-AR

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