Monday, August 5, 2002 @ 3:01 PM
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Despite the lackluster performance of the band's last album, Demolition, and persistent rumors that the return of prodigal frontman Rob Halford is in the works, British metal gods Judas Priest seem determined to carry on with Tim "Ripper" Owens behind the mic. The Demolition tour is still chugging along after more than a year -- Priest is making its second trek through the states as we speak -- and the band is confident enough to show off its chops, and new singer, with this new concert DVD.
When Priest issued its previous live video, Priest Live after the Turbo tour, the band was still at the top of the metal heap and selling out 20,000-seat arenas around the world. These days, things are more modest and the band is performing in theaters to crowds of 2,000. But as evidenced by Live In London, Priest plays the smaller venues with arena-sized gusto, even though the robotic stage sets and volcanic pyro displays are a thing of the past. Recorded at the famed Brixton Academy, where many bands have taken advantage of its unique architecture and huge stage to film videos (Motorhead's 25 Alive Boneshaker is out next month), Priest strip it down, strap it on and rock through a 19-song, two-hour set.
All your old favorites are included -- "Victim of Changes," "Hell Bent For Leather" and a mostly acoustic rendition of "Diamonds & Rust" that more closely resembles folkie Joan Baez's original version before the power chord finale -- as well as a handful of newer numbers -- "One on One," Feed On Me" -- that aren't nearly as wretched as perhaps you've been led to believe. And if nothing else, they're certainly heavy. The only real surprise is the inclusion of the "United," an obscurity from British Steel that has been transformed from a metalheads-as-one sing-along into a post-Sept. 11 anthem. It's a nice gesture, and somewhat fitting since Priest now has two American members. The superstar guitar tandem of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing -- who've aged much better than most 40-plus metal dudes and can slap on the leather gear without looking ridiculous -- still tear it up, be it on their trademark lead trade-offs, the charging riffs of "Breaking The Law" and "Painkiller" or shuddering hooks of "Metal Gods" and "Living After Midnight." And with bassist Ian Hill, in his trademark stoic pose aside the drum riser, anchoring the bottom end as he has for almost 30 friggin' years, and ace drummer Scott Travis setting an aggressive pace, you really can't go wrong -- no matter who's singing.
And no matter how you slice it, Live In London is as much a showcase for Ripper Owens as it is a chance for Priest to prove it's still a viable presence a decade after Halford took his bondage gear and iron lungs and bolted. With two albums and plenty of roadwork under his belt, Owens appears fairly comfortable in his dream job as Judas Priest frontman -- something he alludes to during the "interview" segment of the DVD.
Although he's not an especially charismatic frontman, Owens also doesn't try to force his personality on the band. And that's a pretty shrewd move on his part. All he really needs to do is hit the high notes in "Victim Of Changes," "Desert Plains" and elsewhere and let Tipton and Downing steer the ship with their stellar guitar work. And that's just what he does, handling Halford's air-raid siren histrionics with ease and making up what he lacks in stage flair with a forceful vocal performance all-around. But Owens isn't angling to make you forget Halford, he wants you appreciate the music. And if that smacks of metal karaoke, so be it. It's a better option than having some egomaniac trying to prove he's the man -- and to the crowd at Brixton Academy that's diggin' every minute of it, it's better than no Priest at all.
Along with the concert, the DVD offers the usual backstage bonus footage -- although it's pretty tame stuff, basically the band members sitting around talking about how they're doing it all "in the name of metal" and playing the usual pranks. Owens does reveal the secret to his impressive pipes –- chugging Tabasco sauce. "That's how you sing them high notes," he says after taking a nice big swig.
There's also some soundcheck footage that includes run-throughs of a couple tracks that didn't make the concert set list -- "The Sentinel," the bruising "Machine Man," which is probably the best track from either of the studio albums Owens has been a part of, and the lame ballad "Lost And Found," which is one of the worst.
Since Priest already released a live album with Owens -- Metal Meltdown recorded during the Jugulator tour -- Live In London seems like overkill. And the bonus footage is hardly revealing enough to make the DVD an essential purchase. But for Priest diehards, or the curious metal fan who wants to see what the band is like sans Halford, Live In London will make a worthy addition to your collection.
* * ½