Having flown the flag for 35 years of a metal sub-genre other bands of the early 1980s did not dare tread, Stryper set the bar when it came to heavy Christian rock music. In 2018, the yellow and black attackers continue to add to their legacy.
The latest example came Tuesday night at an overflowing Sam's Burger Joint, as Stryper unveiled tunes throughout its unique career in a riveting 1-hour, 45-minute performance. Continuing to push boundaries, Stryper's latest album God Damn Evil produced mixed connotations regarding the meaning of its title and whether the band was using its acknowledged maker in vain. It was the latest form of backlash from a band that tosses bibles to its audiences yet has been criticized for three decades by members of its congregation -- musical and otherwise -- for capitalizing on His name.
At Sam's, it was all about the music as Stryper rocked the stage like no other Christian band that has attempted to follow in its footsteps.
One question coming in was whether the group would open with, or even play at all, the new album's first single, "Take it to the Cross," a tune that sees singer/guitarist Michael Sweet test his high-pitched vocals like no other Stryper song. The answer was no, given that it would likely wipe out even his sensational voice if he sang it every night live. Instead, Stryper opted to open with its previous album's first tune "Yahweh" (setlist below).
Peculiarly, however, Sweet mere hours after the show described "Take it to the Cross" on his Twitter account as "our heaviest and best song to date." The song features death-metal background-vocal growls from Act Of Defiance bassist Matt Bachand, whose band headlined The Rock Box on March 8 (coverage here). It's the same venue Stryper sold out to 1,000 fans July 2, 2016, on the final night of its Fallen tour (coverage here) prior to returning three months later to Alamo City Music Hall for the 30th anniversary of To Hell With the Devil (coverage here).
This time, Sam's crammed in about a third of that contingent, with some sticking their heads into the doorway from the patio separating the music hall from the restaurant -- though Sweet made sure to acknowledge those folks too.
In both 2016 visits, Stryper was one of the few '80s bands that still maintained its original lineup. However, internal strife was beginning to rear its head at the onset of the "To Hell With the Devil" anniversary tour, which Michael Sweet addressed with ATM at the time (listen here) and eventually led to the second departure of bassist Tim Gaines.
Consequently, former Firehouse bassist Perry Richardson filled the void at Sam's, joining Sweet's other original cohorts in his brother and drummer Robert Sweet and guitarist Oz Fox. It's going to take more than a week or two of touring for Richardson to be fully integrated and look comfortable with three members who have been there for 3 1/2 decades. In fact, his bright yellow bass was the only similarity he exhibited on stage with Fox and the Sweet brothers. He didn't speak at all to the crowd and even appeared dazed at times. He merely waved and smiled when band introductions were made. Even that moment proved funny, though, when Michael Sweet jokingly described his brother as "formerly of Roxx Regime," which of course was Stryper's original name.
While rocking out to classic favorites "Free," "Loud 'N' Clear" (ATM Facebook Live footage here) and "In God We Trust" along with new tracks "Sorry" (ATM footage here), "The Valley" and ballad "Can't Live Without Your Love," Stryper's most poignant moment came prior to 1990 ballad "Lady."
Fox dedicated the track to his wife because it was their anniversary. But for those who don't know, their story goes much beyond a dedication. Annie Lobert spent 16 years in the sex industry and wrote a book in 2015 called "Fallen: Out of the Sex Industry and Into the Arms of The Savior," coinciding with Stryper's album of the same name that year. Lobert now runs Hookers For Jesus, a ministry for prostitutes in Las Vegas. Fox asked those filming in the crowd to capture his dedication. ATM happily obliged (watch here).
It was also nice to see Stryper perform the track considering Michael Sweet did so during his solo acoustic show in 2015 at the now-defunct Korova, only to have unwanted feedback spoil the end of the song (coverage here).
"Big Screen Lies" (ATM Facebook Live footage here) from Fallen was the most surprising selection of the night, freezing many in the crowd. While it would've been nice to have Stryper bring back "Two-Time Woman" or even try their hand at "The Reign" from In God We Trust, the set did not disappoint. At one point, the group did a medley of short riffs of artists or songs inspired by their 2011 effort The Covering including Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love" (though they did "On Fire" on that album) and Iron Maiden's "The Trooper." Those came after Michael Sweet entertained with the riff from Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold" before declaring, "Robert doesn't know that one."
No Stryper concert would be complete without No. 1 MTV ballad "Honestly" and "To Hell With the Devil," the latter being the lone encore and ending the show at 10:01 p.m. In fact, Stryper performed 60 percent of its most successful album. Michael Sweet's vocals were arguably the most piercing they've been for any of the band's San Antonio performances, proving he's getting finer with age. And as usual, Robert Sweet and Fox were stellar even if they were said to be a bit under the weather. Once Richardson becomes fully acclimated, the sky's the limit for the band that honors a higher power.
Then again, it always has been.
SETLIST: Yahweh, The Valley, Calling On You, Free, More Than A Man, All For One, Lady, Revelation, In God We Trust, Sorry, Surrender, Soldiers Under Command, God Damn Evil, Big Screen Lies, Always There For You, Can't Live Without Your Love, Loud 'N' Clear, Honestly, The Way. Encore: Abyss/To Hell With the Devil