Like a burst of firepower blazing through the Freeman Coliseum, Judas Priest made a resounding statement during the final stop of the first leg of its North American tour Tuesday night. No, it wasn't its traditional "The Priest is back!"
It was "The Priest Will Be Back."
But there was no sense in making such a bold declaration if Judas Priest hadn't spent the previous 1 hour and 45 minutes delivering the goods. Coming into a tour minus original guitarist Glenn Tipton due to Parkinson's Disease and with some fans the world over continuing to lament the 2011 retirement of cohort K.K. Downing that led to the inclusion of replacement Richie Faulkner on a tour billed as "Epitaph," fans could be excused for thinking Judas Priest was on the demise.
Around the Alamo City, that was even more so. The Priest skipped San Antonio on its last tour, opting instead for Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest in November 2014 (coverage and interview with Tipton and Faulkner here) and the Cedar Park Center six months later (coverage here).
But there was one small problem with all of that. Someone forgot to inform Judas Priest its time was done. They're not called the metal gods for nothing, after all. Gods are immortal, aren't they?
And did someone say Tipton was MIA? Not so fast. Having skipped the tour other than a special appearance in New York, Tipton did a Texas three-step of cities and encores, performing a British Steel trifecta of "Metal Gods" (ATM footage below), "Breaking the Law" and "Living After Midnight" in Dallas, Houston, and the city in which Judas Priest received its first taste of American radio airplay in the early '80s.
Once the colorful curtain adorned with Priest lyrics dropped, Halford, Faulkner, Andy Sneap, bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis unveiled the title track to Firepower, with Halford's silver jacket to match (see 74-photo slideshow). A parade of classics followed with "Running Wild," "Grinder" and the surprising inclusion of "Sinner" beckoning an early case for a sore throat the next morning at work.
When Judas Priest headlined the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in 2005, it occurred on the same night as the Spurs' championship River Walk parade and featured Halford -- a resident of Phoenix -- performing the encores in a Tim Duncan jersey. At the 2008 Metal Masters show with Heaven And Hell, Motorhead and Testament at the same venue, Halford celebrated his birthday by smashing the cake into his face himself.
On Oct. 12, 2011, the group kicked off the second leg of its U.S. "Epitaph" tour at the AT&T Center, marking Faulkner's North American debut with the band. Tuesday's show was its first visit since and resulted in arguably the most diverse setlist of the bunch. Although it was unconscionable Judas Priest omitted its best song "Victim of Changes," if you were to be told prior to the show that in its place you'd hear "Sinner," "Bloodstone" (ATM footage here), "Saints in Hell," "Running Wild" and "Freewheel Burning," you'd gladly take it. The fact Halford was in hellaciously rippin' form made it that much sweeter.
And that was before Judas Priest pleasantly spoiled the night for those who choose to look up setlists prior to a concert by unveiling a tune it hadn't performed since 1981. Halford introduced another song from "Victim of Changes' " 1974 effort Sad Wings of Destiny, revealing that "Tyrant" was about to be unleashed anywhere for the first time in 37 years. He was half right. Halford's eponymous solo band performed it at Rock In Rio on its 2001 double live Live Insurrection offering, which features San Antonio drummer Bobby Jarzombek -- who was looking on from the front of the Coliseum.
Sneap, a mega-producer who worked on Firepower, was brought out by direct support act Saxon prior to filling in for Tipton (coverage here). To show he wasn't chopped liver on stage, Sneap was given the lead extended solo, added to by Faulkner, on "Hell Bent For Leather" while Halford enjoyed himself on the Harley (ATM footage here). Other highlights included regular set finale "Painkiller," with Travis playing to the crowd as to where the band "chose" to end its tour (ATM footage here).
After Halford paid homage to the late San Antonio disc jockey Joe Anthony by declaring each of the band's visits is "special," there was only one thing left to do.
Without any fanfare or words, Tipton appeared on the big screen and in the flesh as he took in the roars of approval to begin the encores. Parkinson's couldn't keep the 70-year-old guitarist down for the entire tour, and the Alamo City reaped the benefits of his seemingly improving condition as well as the tour scheduling.
As the six -- yes, six -- members of Judas Priest held hands high following "Living After Midnight," Halford bellowed the words everyone wanted to hear but may have thought were too good to be true: "The Priest Will Be Back." If they weren't convinced hearing it from the Metal God himself, the big screens put it in writing as fans went home happy, some still singing "Bloodstone" in the hallways.
Those who skipped the evening over doubts about Priest's well-being are undoubtedly still kicking themselves. So consider the band's final declaration a spoiler alert and warning sign not to make the same mistake.
Judas Priest doesn't need a stinkin' Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame induction to cement its legacy. Its place was etched in stone long ago in helping to shape the Heavy Metal Capital in the '80s. So if indeed The Priest will be back, it's sure to bring plenty more firepower along. And that's not something you'll want to miss again.
SETLIST: Firepower, Running Wild, Grinder, Sinner, The Ripper, Lightning Strike, Bloodstone, Saints in Hell, Turbo Lover, Freewheel Burning, Evil Never Dies, Some Heads Are Gonna Roll, Tyrant, You've Got Another Thing Comin', (The Hellion)/Electric Eye, Hell Bent For Leather, Painkiller. Encores (with Glenn Tipton): Metal Gods, Breaking the Law, Living After Midnight