Kicking off the show was Los Angeles-based rockers Black Star Riders, who preformed well in spite of a technical sound issue beyond their control. Featuring Thin Lizzy singer Ricky Warwick and the former drummer of Wilkes-Barre’s own Breaking Benjamin, Chad Szeliga, Black Star Riders looked right at home on the stage of the Mohegan Sun Arena, and their style served as a fitting warm-up to the classic British brand of metal that followed.
The technical sound issue persisted into Saxon‘s first song – the title track of their new album, Thunderbolt – but the issue was then resolved, and the sound quality remained top-notch throughout the rest of the evening. For a group of guys who have been making music since before I was born, they played with an energy of a band a third of their age, tearing through new and old songs with the same vigor of a group that truly loves what they do.
The most unfortunate point of the evening, however, was the delay in starting the show on time, which resulted in Saxon only performing seven songs. For a band that doesn’t make it to the area very often, a band that has over twenty-two full-length albums worth of material, this was deeply upsetting to me, and the sentiment was shared with many others in attendance. Nevertheless, Saxon made plenty of new fans that night, and left Northeast PA hungry for a return.
Judas Priest concluded the evening with a nineteen-song set that surprised virtually the entire crowd packed side to side, front to back. A “deep cuts” kind of night, it was, as they preformed songs not heard in nearly a decade, songs not heard in more than two decades, and songs never before heard live – and I’m not just talking about the Firepower tracks. Peppered in, of course, were the old classics and anthemic standouts that made the group so popular in the first place.
Being the first show of the tour, it was the first chance for Glen Tipton’s replacement, Hell guitarist Andy Sneap, to perform live with the band. Fellow guitarist Ritchie Faulkner did most of the lead work and solos, but Andy did a great job filling some of the largest shoes in the history of metal, and I’m sure as the tour goes on and the band’s new lineup starts to gel a bit more on stage, the chemistry will only grow. As exciting as it was to be at the first show and have no idea what was coming, I’d love to be at a later tour date to see how the group develops as a unit.
Sound-wise, Priest was as good as ever before. Halford was hitting some high notes that I thought impossible. If you’re a fan of Judas Priest or metal in general, it’s hard to imagine being disappointed by what they did on stage that night. It’s difficult for a band with as much fame and longevity as Judas Priest to deliver a new experience after so many years of touring, yet they did it anyway.
At a show featuring two British metal titans that have been holding the genre to such a high standard for such a long time, what stood out to me was the age diversity of those in attendance. There were those who grew up as Priest and Saxon were just starting, as well as younger kids who couldn’t be more than six or seven years old enjoying the show just the same. Parents and their children were seen leaving the venus wearing the same Saxon shirts or Priest shirts purchased at the merch booth that night. As bands like Priest and Saxon keep producing consistently good material year after year, and a younger generation soaking it all in as rapturously as those who first discovered British Steel or Wheels of Steel in 1980, it all but confirms that metal will truly never die.