If a friend says, "hey, fancy popping over to Vegas to see Priest?", your first reaction would generally be "let me think about it", but with Thin Lizzy and Black Label Society in support, the line-up kind of made my mind up for me. I love going to gigs in other countries, to see how the UK measures up, and I've seen a fair few already in the US and especially Las Vegas, but this was my first gig at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel. It's recently gone through a refurb and is a lot bigger, according to friends that had been there before. In fact, you'd compare it to one of our arena venues in terms of size and layout.
Security was tight and it took us a while to get in, so missed the opening of Thin Lizzy. We could still hear as Ricky Warwick's distinctive voice carried right through to the queue waiting patiently to get in. After seeing them a couple of times at festivals this year, it was a pleasure to see them play an indoor venue instead.
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Looking at the crowd, I'd say it's likely the first time most of them had witnessed Lizzy live, and as they launched into 'The Boys Are Back In Town', people of all ages were singing and dancing along. 'Rosalie' came with the traditional dedications to Phil Lynott and Gary Moore, with Ricky asking the crowd to sing along in their honour.
As they were the opening act tonight, their set wasn't very long, and as they finished up with the undoubtedly Celtic 'Black Rose', you couldn't help wishing that BLS weren't playing at all so you could indulge in some more good old-fashioned rock'n'roll.
Talking of BLS, I was let down by their London show earlier this year, as it was marred by sound issues. However, this venue has no problem in that department and can boast one of the best sonic experiences I'd heard in a while. As the familiar Black Label Society curtain dropped, Zakk Wylde appeared in an Indian headdress as he kicked off their show.
As you walk into The Joint, there is a sign which states 'no crowd surfing or moshing activities', but the fans don't seem to care as 'Bleed For Me' gets them whipped up, and I saw more than one fan ejected for rocking out, which is a bit odd for a music venue in Sin City. What exactly do the venue mean by moshing activities anyway? I understand why there's a blanket ban on crowd surfing having had my head kicked by many a work boot in my time, but does this kind of warning mean you could possibly be kicked out for head banging. Surely not!?
Anyway, back to the gig. The big black and white balls soon appear, and the US fans are a lot better at keeping them up in the air rather grabbing them instantly like they seem to do in the UK. One of the balls made a beeline for bassist JD and he did a great job of knocking it back with the neck of his guitar, without missing a note.
Next up is epileptic fit-inducing video work during Zakk's solo, going rapidly from left to right on the big screens, which made me feel sick. And the guitar solo went on for far too long for a support act. Don't get me wrong, I fully appreciate the skills and talent of this world class musician, but I would have been happier watching another song or two instead. All too self-indulgent for my liking, and I found myself counting the number of lights on the mightily impressive Marshall stack through sheer boredom and to focus on something other than the constant flicker on the screens (160 from where I was standing).
The show ended with 'Stillborn' and I was left underwhelmed by it all, which is a real shame, as I've always loved watching Zakk and his merry men, but long solos, bad video work and no vocal interaction with the crowd left it all a bit lacklustre.
The excitement soon returned once the Judas Priest 'Epitaph' curtain was raised and Lady Starlight, who was DJing between each act, helped build it up and get everyone going with a spot-on setlist. Just before Priest hit the stage, on came Black Sabbath's 'War Pigs', which was a fantastic way to set the scene for the fellow Midlanders to take over Las Vegas.
Priest kicked of their mammoth set with 'Rapid Fire', and I've never heard lyrics as best placed as now. After catching Priest's outstanding High Voltage show this summer, I can categorically say that I've witnessed them pound the world like a battering ram.
This farewell tour seems to be doing Rob Halford's voice the world of good, as it's by far the best I've ever seen him perform. He's more energetic these days, and a lot of people are saying it's down to new guitarist Richie Faulkner injecting a fresh lease of life into the band. He certainly doesn't look new, more like he's been part of Priest for years, almost making you forget KK Downing (I said 'almost').
As the silver staff shimmered beneath the light of the lasers, Rob Halford paid homage to two bands from the seventies and both from the home of heavy Metal, Birmingham. Of course, he can only be talking about Priest and Sabbath. But he humbly said it wouldn't be possible without the fans and thanks them for making over four decades of Priest a reality.
The set was full of the usual crowd pleasers, and with a backcatalogue as impressive as theirs there were plenty to choose from. Some of the highlights were the audience singing 'Breaking The Law' instead of Rob Halford and Richie realising he had his own Las Vegas fan club, if the whistles and cheers after 'Painkiller' were anything to go by.
The encore consisted of 'Electric Eye', the traditional motorbike entrance for 'Hell Bent for Leather', topped off with 'You've Got Another Thing Coming'. Leaving the stage, Rob said "keep the heavy Metal faith going", and as we were left wondering if that really was the last time we'd see Priest again, we vowed to keep that promise. But it's not over yet, as a second encore of 'Living After Midnight' went down an absolute treat.
I know Priest have been around a long time and they announced this as their farewell tour, but I really hope they have a change of heart. The show tonight proved to me that there's a lot of energy left in this band that would be wasted not given the occasional outing. If they stand by their word and finish after the 'Epitaph' Tour, then I can honestly say they're ending at the very top. Stunning show and by far the best I've ever seen them.