Long Island metalheads are receiving a hard-rocking treat on Nov. 5 and 6 when the Grammy-winning legends of Judas Priest roar into town for two rare, intimate club dates at The Paramount with opener Mastodon in tow. The British rockers are still actively touring the globe thanks in part to young gun Richie Faulkner, the blond guitarist who replaced original member K.K. Downing back in 2011. The group's latest album, "Redeemer of Souls," is their highest charting ever (No. 6 on the Top 200), and devotees still clamor to hear them play their classics, which this time will include the intense rocker "Screaming for Vengeance," which has not been heard live in nearly 30 years.
While it might surprise some fans that Priest, which has played regularly in front of arena- and festival-size crowds in recent years, would play a smaller venue, the band has occasionally done smaller shows throughout the world.
"There are these beautiful theaters across the States that create intimacy," says Faulkner. "Of course, nothing sounds like a loud guitar in an arena and 25,000 to 30,000 metalheads screaming back at you, but there is something charming about 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 in a theater. There's no less magic, it's just a different type of magic. I think Priest can play anywhere."
"We just want to play, man, as long as we can get the gear onstage," says singer Rob Halford. "It's been an exciting tour for that reason alone. You know what it's like when you're in the Enormo Dome and the fans are 100 feet away from you: Where's the contact? We did a show in Holland on the last European leg, and the way the building was built, the fans were literally on the stage. It was the most amazing experience in that sense of intimacy. When you're screaming 'Painkiller' and there is a guy and a girl literally inches away from your face, it's incredible. It's exhilarating but also challenging because they can see everything. You're really exposing yourself in the rawest possible sense, and I personally love that experience." He promises plenty of intensity at the Huntington gigs.
Judas Priest has been rocking the world since before its 1974 debut "Rocka Rolla," and it is not lost on the 64-year-old singer how many of the old guard of classic metal bands have been struggling with health issues recently, including Motörhead frontman Lemmy and Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. Halford himself underwent two surgeries in the last couple of years, one for his back and the other for a hernia. A few years ago, he joked that he did not see himself performing the brutal "Painkiller" when he is 70, but he seems to have changed that notion.
"I wonder where I'll be on my 70th birthday," says Halford. "I'm going to make sure I'm onstage somewhere and getting ready to scream that out, no matter what condition I'm in, because it's on my bucket list."
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Halford recalls how rock and roll was originally perceived as a young man's game. "Thankfully, the way we look at music now, there's this incredible openness against ageism and numbers," he says. "It doesn't really serve a purpose or have any relevance to some extent in certain types of music. And that's a relief. The shelf life doesn't really come into the metal world anymore, so that's great for bands of the old guard like Priest and Maiden and now Metallica and Megadeth. It just proves what we've always said, that at the heart of it, it keeps us thriving and connected. It's the music, plain and simple. It's the music that matters."
Rob Halford: The next Bublé?
He may be known for his multi-octave voice and glass-shattering screams, but Rob Halford possesses an affinity for many types of music. "I still want to do that blues album," he says. "I've always felt that that's very much a part of my background and musical roots. I don't know what kind of blues album I could do because there are so many different facets [to explore]. Maybe I'll just mix it up. As far as stuff out of the metal world, I'm a fan of people like Michael Bublé and Michael Feinstein. I've always been a fan of Sinatra and Tony Bennett and Elvis. I'd love to hear what my voice would sound like in that kind of musical mix, with wind instruments, trumpets and sax, piano, just that big-band sound."
Halford has always been a multifaceted singer who frequently explores different vocal styles and occasionally sounds different from himself, which is rare for a rock singer. "That's probably why I'm so interested in trying these other opportunities," he says. "I think if I had a voice that was different to what it is and was a little more in one focus, maybe I wouldn't be as adventurous about my ideas. But because my voice is able to do those different things, it's instinctive and natural to see what else I can do."
Someone recently leaked a minute-long snippet on YouTube of Judas Priest's glossy cover of the Stylistics "You Are Everything," one of three shelved songs recorded in the late '80s with pop production triumvirate Stock Aitken Waterman (of Kylie Minogue and Bananarama fame). Some fans loved it, others were aghast, but it once again proved his versatility.
"That was all strings and backup singers," says Halford. "The complete piece of that is a beautiful piece of work. It wouldn't have been that far out of reach from what we did on the [synth-driven] 'Turbo' album in my mind. I think some of the ways that I used my voice on some of the 'Nostradamus' [metal opera] tracks leaned a little bit toward that type of expression. But the clock is ticking, and I've got to get on with doing these types of bucket-list endeavors."