Judas Priest / Saxon / Black Star Riders TD Place, Ottawa ON, March 25

Judas Priest / Saxon / Black Star Riders TD Place, Ottawa ON, March 25
Photo: Chris Bubinas
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If you run into someone in Ottawa today who seems half deaf and can't wipe a grin off their face, chances are they caught the Judas Priest show at TD Place on Sunday night. The pulsating, electrifying show was a celebration of legacies and an evening of relentless headbanging, with enough watts of light and sound to put a major dent in the local electricity supply.
 
Kicking off the night were American rockers Black Star Riders, whose lineup represents most of the same members and much of the sound as the current incantation of Thin Lizzy. High energy and fronted by Ricky Warwick, the youngest vocalist to take the stage this night, the band dished out a bluesy, groovy performance in front of an already packed arena. Basked in blue, silver and gold lighting, the band swayed in front of a large backdrop adorned by the fiery strongman album cover of their most recent 2017 release, Heavy Fire. Warwick's vocals absolutely smacked of former Thin Lizzy singer Phil Lynott, particularly during a tight cover of Thin Lizzy's hit song "Jailbreak." The band clearly impressed the crowd, who clapped and sang along during songs like "When the Night Comes In" and "Bound for Glory." A highlight of the performance was a neat mini-rendition of "Oh Canada" by Black Star Riders axe-man Damon Johnson.
 
Next to storm the stage were England's "new wave of British heavy metal" pioneers Saxon, who despite 20-plus albums, a couple dozen million in record sales, and a storied 40-year career, seem a bit underappreciated on this side of the pond. The band put on an incredible, riffy performance behind the soaring vocals of vocalist Biff Byford, who basked in all the love from the crowd. "It's great to be back in Canada," Byford gushed. "This is the tour of the century. If I wasn't up here, I'd definitely be down there with you right now!"
 
The band ripped through 12 excellent songs with particular emphasis on a few strong cuts from their 2018 release, Thunderbolt. Certainly the most eye-opening set of the night, many conversations after the show were of the "how the hell did I not know Saxon were so amazing?" variety. It's great to see a band this late into their career, make a few thousand new fans with such a terrific performance.
 
But all that had come before was about to be eclipsed, as the general admission crowd on the floor of the arena swelled in front of the stage waiting for the arrival of Judas Priest. So as the instrumental intro "Guardians" from the band's amazing, yet divisive, new release Firepower played over the PA, a massive drape covering the stage appeared to crackle and burn in flames before disappearing in a split-second in an apparent magic trick, and the band leapt into a ferocious rendition of their new title track.
 
What followed was a swirling maelstrom of the band's finest work, spanning nearly 50 years and culled from ten different albums. It was commonplace for the band to leap forwards and backwards by decades in time, jumping from new material back to vintage tracks from albums like Screaming for Vengeance.
 
The performance unleashed by legendary frontman-vocalist Rob Halford was almost inexplicable. While his birth certificate claims he is 66 years old, his soaring, iconic falsetto vocals were entirely impeccable. So too were the guitar riffs flailing around him on the stage, despite the performing absence of guitarist Glenn Tipton, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's, stand in Andy Sneap was a stalwart, and the jaw-dropping performance of riff-master Richie Faulkner alone was worth the price of admission. This was simply an incessant attack of mesmerizing riffs and piercing vocals delivered at the highest level, and the crowd was thrashing and screaming every second of the way, with very few people bothering to make use of their seats.
 
Performances like "Turbo Lover" felt inter-dimensional, and watching Halford take the stage on a motorcycle for "Hellbent for Leather" was amazing. The material from the new album was amongst the very best received, in particular a stellar performance of "Evil Never Dies." There was simply not one dull moment during the entire show, and for bonus points, Halford must have changed wardrobe approximately 190 times during the set. Like Byford before him, Halford really seems to absorb the love from the crowd, and at one time sat at the front corner of the stage, reflecting on and talking about the past 50 years and the timelessness of music. As a band rumoured to perhaps be conducting their final tour, and in front of a very age-diverse crowd, the theme of time certainly resonated strong here on many levels, and made it just that much more special.
 
With gracious bows, and joined on stage by Glenn Tipton to bid farewell, the band threw salutes and blew kisses into the howling crowd who simply did not want for the evening to end.
 
 

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