Good news for heavy metal fans, bad news for cows: Judas Priest once again headlines the big stages, thanks to the return of Rob Halford, who wears more leather than the average Hereford.
The band came out of Birmingham, England, in the mid-1970s, flaunting a twin-guitar attack and Halford's singular wail. The singer fled in the early 1990s but returned last year after admitting his solo turn was a mistake, and his former mates confessed Priest wasn't Priest without him. For 90 minutes at Nissan Pavilion on Sunday, Halford stomped around the stage in massive leather boots and a variety of leather overcoats, some frillier and more glittery than others. When he took off his leather cap, Halford -- a tad beefier than in Priest's heyday -- looked as wicked as Col. Kurtz from "Apocalypse Now."
Songs from Priest's reunion CD, "Angel of Retribution," received polite ovations. Yet the older, heavier material (including 1976's "Victim of Changes" and a retooled cover of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust") drew the most devil signs from the crowd, a big portion of which, based on T-shirt evidence, was there for the quintet's first go-round.
The vintage Priest music once condemned as evil now seems harmless, and as cartoonish as Halford's get-ups and stage action: He joined bassist Ian Hill and guitarists KK Downing and Glenn Tipton at the front of the stage to form Priest's trademark synchronized headbanging line during "Breakin' the Law."
Halford shrieked in his otherworldly high pitch on "Beyond the Realms of Death," while his mates delivered prototypical power-ballad riffs in one of the tunes that got the band mired in an unsuccessful product-liability suit that alleged its music, when heard backward, contained messages that incited kids to commit suicide. Halford rode a big, loud motorcycle and wore a leather biker suit for the encore of "Hell Bent for Leather." If a tape of the performance were played backward, the message would likely be along the lines of "Cotton, the fabric of our lives!"
-- Dave McKenna