As I was a young kid, I learned about music from hearing it on the radio, and then from my brother’s record player, in the car, or just hanging out. It was an adventure that developed into serious drug addiction. In the spring of 1983 when I was about 9, I realized I was hooked on music, just the joy it brought me, not understanding the endorphin rush I was getting or the emotional connection, it was just, some strange noise that made me feel good, as my feelings were becoming one with the sounds I was hearing.
As the heavy metal was the fare being played in the house for so long, Judas Priest was a staple in the metal diet. Judas Priest in 1983 was the bleeding “Cutting edge metal” band having repeatedly proven themselves with their sound. And as far as I have experienced, since then, they are STILL one of the top 5 metal bands of all time. In my opinion, the best 5 singers of metal are Rob Halford, (Judas Priest) Bruce Dickenson (Iron Maiden) Ozzy Ozborne, (Black Sabbath) Lemmy, (Motorhead), and Ronnie James Dio (Dio). Toss out Metallica, Guns & Roses, and Poison, the bands that spent more time getting their image to shine. Judas Priest has maintained its throne in the “Halls of Heavy Metal”. If there is a “Valhalla” of Metal, Judas Priest would sit at the table with more stories to tell as they have just tied up their “50 YEARS OF HEAVY METAL” tour.
How is Judas Priest related to the LGBTQ community? We can proudly claim the greatest vocalist in heavy metal history Rob Halford as one of our own.
While metal was into big hair and spandex, Rob Halford was sporting the “Leatherman” look, and for many many years, the joke was on everyone else. Halford came out officially in 1998, and never looked back or regretted it. Rob Halford was finally happy to tell everyone who he was, a gay man, who can sing metal in 8 octaves (I will say that again because it bears repeating) Halford can sing metal in 8 octaves. The “Overly Masculine” metal fans had to adjust their understanding of what it meant to be a “Metal God”, and Halford has spent the last 25 years enjoying every moment of it (he also has a thread of himself with his cats on Instagram).
I planned to shoot the Judas Priest gig in Salt Lake City in November 2021, which was abruptly rescheduled 2 days before the show. I found out on the band’s website that Richie the guitarist fell very ill and was hospitalized, so we would have to wait for Judas Priest to regroup. In February the date finally came, and I was as excited as the first time I shot U2, this being a band as legendary, and holding titles 10 years longer than U2. This was a full arena, full with as much anticipation. For 50 years, any band could hang it up in glory. Well, Judas Priest, at 50 years wanted to tell the world they were still able to lay out ear-splitting falsetto vocals, and pounding guitar riffs that have been stolen by oh so many follow up acts who have called it quits while Judas Priest just kept going.
The opening act was Queensryche, I grew up with all the metalheads in my world living by “Operation Mindcrime” as if it was gospel, and it was … Meh… They were good live, minus the original singer.
I was standing in the press pit with some friends who I have been shooting with for years. It felt so good to be back. The stage looked like a dystopian sci-fi metal bike shop, a fitting motif for a band of 50 trailblazing years. As the band came out and started to crank out I was feeling my entire frame shake to a low rumble. So loud that my stomach was hurting, and I felt like my teeth were going to fall out. I haven’t had anything that loud since SWANS. Yeah, this is metal leaving its mark.
A metal frame of the Juda Priest logo emboldened with lights swung down over the stage, as a monologue was played over the speakers to say at the end “I AM HEAVY FUCKING METAL”
With that, we saw ROB HALFORD, age 70, decked out in all leather unloading all the metal vocal “One shot at glory”. I was standing within feet of metal royalty and I felt it, even through my reinforced earplugs, I was getting rocked to my core.
I can’t explain it, but I was so excited to be shooting the show and standing so close to it, I was also overwhelmed with the music that I found it hard to concentrate shooting, it was just so good. This RARELY ever happens.
Halford welcomed everyone out to the show, saying “We’re here to tell you, Judas Priest is back”. He changed into a leather jacket and went on singing. Very active, moving from one end of the stage to the other, the only difference between 2022 and 1982, was that he wasn’t wearing his leatherman biker hat, and he had a grey beard. “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin” finished the set in the photo pit. As we walked out of the pit back through the office, I said to a buddy who I shoot shows with “I just came” he said, “I did too, TWICE”. Yeah, they were that intense, loud, and just incredible.
I got back to my seat by the song “Turbo Lover”, and wow, I just sat down and enjoyed the assault on the senses. By then, Halford was in yet another leather outfit. Though he wasn’t the only guy on stage decked out in leather, he was the only one changing them out every song.
As Judas Priest blazed through their setlist of numbers that have dotted the landscape of rock and roll history, Halford changed into a different leather outfit for almost every song. I have only one biker jacket, and I know how much they cost, so, the steel studded leatherman gear Halford was strutting on stage, amassed a modest fortune in value. All to the cranking guitar riffs, and basslines of “A Touch Of Evil”, and “Rock and Rolla”, all of the songs blurred into one another of being classics, still sounding as good and as relevant as the first time I had ever heard them. For me, this was a cathartic experience of 30+ years of a band, it being impossible for me to think what the ideal setlist would be, like leaving your favorite kids at home while taking the rest on a picnic, I just enjoyed what they chose to give us that night.
The highest point of the night, everyone in the band got to showcase their skills of guitar with small solos, a drum solo, and Rob Halford going from his lowest growl to his highest pitch scream all in the one song “Victim of Changes”, which is kind of the “Showcase” piece of the catalog in my opinion.
By the time they got to “Hellbent For Leather”, you could only imagine what was coming. Halford rode his Harley Davidson on stage, in more leather and steel than any other outfit. He drove it on stage and had no shame in letting everyone know he was gay and proud of it. Whipping the bike with a leather horsewhip, he was having the time of his life. And why not, this is Rob FUCKING HALFORD, and he has been doing this for 50 years, he can do whatever he wants on stage, and it is going to be AWESOME.
They finished the set with the epic “Must Haves” for any Judas Priest gig. “Metal Gods”, “Breakin The Law” and of course, no show is complete without “Living After Midnight”. If you like heavy metal, even if you don’t (You should, the LGBTQ Community needs more metal in their diet anyway), Judas Priest is a historical show to see, and with the legendary voice of Rob Halford delivering like this after 50 years, the queer community can be proud of one of their sons having kept metal going for so long.
Just so you all know, Judas Priest and classic rock legends Deep Purple will be touring together for 25 dates this summer, you really want to see that show. Just make sure to wear your leather to fit in.