Judas Priest played MGM – 10/16

The heavy metal lifers brought their 50th anniversary tour to Boston with support from prog-metal pioneers Queensrÿche.

Fifty years isn’t a milestone many bands can even aspire to, let alone one that plays as fast and hard as Judas Priest have all these years. But even with the odds stacked against them – on a tour beset by both pandemic and health-related delays – the fivesome thundered into Boston’s MGM Music Hall last weekend (where the last show I saw, weirdly enough, was also a 50th anniversary date) with an emphatic statement of vitality.

Ensconced by an industrial stage set reminiscent of the chemical plant where Jack Nicholson’s Joker gets disfigured, the band tore through a lean, no-nonsense set of their canonical heavy metal classics. They’re not quite the Priest of yore, of course – founding guitarist K.K. Downing stepped down from the band in 2011, and fellow longtime axeman Glenn Tipton has largely retired from touring in recent years – but the band has adapted to the changes.

Richie Faulkner, Downing’s full-time successor, has grown into his role with the veteran band, sounding absolutely air-tight on stage and playing to the crowd with a palpable sense of joy. Andy Sneap – Tipton’s live replacement and a prolific heavy metal production engineer in his own right – was no slouch either. And then there was Rob Halford, iconic frontman and voice of the band for the lion’s share of these 50 years, who commanded the room with a mischievous rebel spirit. He gleefully gave us the finger in the photo pit, road his signature motorcycle on stage for the night’s encore and sang the hell out of the songs, with that piercing, unmistakable voice in almost shockingly fine form. Rounded out by founding bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis – a constant rhythm section since the ’90s – the band delivered the goods.

The setlist proffered plenty of hits – “Electric Eye,” “Jawbreaker,” “Screaming for Vengeance,” and an encore one-two of “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight” that brought an enormous inflatable bull to the stage in addition to the aforementioned motorcycle – along with some career-surveying deeper cuts. The night ran 17 songs, and the fervent crowd surely could’ve gone for more (myself included; it would’ve been pretty great to hear “Painkiller”), but it feels unfair to begrudge a band of Priest’s vintage a non-marathon set. It certainly wasn’t an unsatisfying one. And to cap things off, the rear stage screen bore the message “The Priest Will Return” as the band departed the stage, suggesting that even at 50, we’ve hardly heard the last of them.

Openers Queensrÿche have truthfully never spent much time on my radar. I can back a lot of heavy music subgenres, but you start to lose me with things arguably adjacent to Dream Theater. Nonetheless, I did find myself enjoying their set. Todd La Torre, replacement for ousted founding singer Geoff Tate since 2012, turned in the first of the night’s impressive vocal performances, soaring atop a tight set from the band (which still includes founding members in bassist Eddie Jackson and guitarist Michael Wilton). Sixty minutes was perhaps a bit more than I needed to hear, but still a mostly pleasant surprise.

Check out photos from both sets below.