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Priest...Live! might lack the personality and controversy surrounding the first Judas Priest live effort Unleashed in the East, but it compensates by providing a natural update to the band's canon in that it doesn't seek to retread the use of the 70s material in the set list. So, for the fan of the band's 80s period, this was the 'modern' Priest, and since they had been pursuing a new style for their latest studio outing Turbo, it makes a whole lotta sense, really. Would that they had stuck to this policy of recording only newer material for subsequent offerings of this sort, one per decade, I'd have a savage respect for the squad, but due to the change in singers and the long gaps in their recorded output through the ensuing decades, that would not turn out to be the case.
So the tracks chosen for this set were once again culled from numerous dates performed in June '86 at The Omni in Atlanta, Georgia and the Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas. Having seen the band a few times here in the States, I can vouch for their collective professionalism and explosive sets across the aeons, but what I enjoyed the most about this offering was simply that I got to hear a number of tunes in the set that I don't normally or would never again normally expect on any of their big tours. Namely because it incorporates a bunch of the Turbo material. "Out in the Cold", "Rock You All Around the World", "Private Property", "Parental Guidance" and of course "Turbo Lover". That last one is admittedly a fixture at many of their gigs, but to hear the others from such a divisive record (which I happen to enjoy) is pretty sweet. I'm not sure of the validity of using "Out in the Cold" as the opener, it feels mildly lethargic (as it does on the studio incarnation) and doesn't exactly build up the listener's excitement, but for all I know they didn't actually do the songs in anything near this order at the actual dates. Otherwise, the material sounds pretty smooth. The synthesizer elements aren't as wild as they were on Turbo, Rob's voice is well sharpened and right on the money, and the guitar chords sound robust without leeching from the rest of the band.
Of course, this was also the first opportunity for me to have a live album with some of my favorites from their earlier 80s material, some of which numbered among my favorites of that period. Obviously the huge hits like "Breaking the Law", "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", "Heading Out to the Highway" and "Living After Midnight" were included in the set, after all these were the ones loading up their bank accounts, but I was also pretty excited for versions of "The Hellion/Electric Eye", "Freewheel Burning", "Metal Gods" and "The Sentinel", all of which sound pretty clean here, though occasionally too clean that they come of so polished that some of the natural, inherent aggression seems leeched. I feel like this is due to the mass levels of reverb and expansive sound that were likely needed to fill these arenas, but they still sound pretty close to their studio counterparts, although a few of the lead sequences are altered. The crowd response sounds a lot more genuine than Unleashed in the East, and Rob's voice a little broader and less piercing, and then there's the fact that this is simply more substantial of an offering at well over 70 minutes and nearly twice the set.
Priest...Live! doesn't carry that same nostalgic value I had for the first album, and some of the songs seem a little too tidy and restrained, but I'll take this any day over the Ripper-led live albums the band would produce many years later, and it's nice that the band decided not to rehash the material from Unleashed in the East, as if to let it all stand on its own as a documentation of the band's evolution. Or, they were likely just tired of those songs by the mid-80s. Ultimately, though, this is worth a pick up only to those who are not turned off by the heavy presence of Turbo. In recent years I've been starting to fancy live albums that feel more focused and authentic (from a single gig), but looking back at the past favorites this was almost never the case. Priest...Live! is certainly not a favorite from this period, but it does its job enough to satisfy an ear attuned to Screaming With Vengeance, British Steel, Defenders of the Faith, Turbo, etc.
Judas Priest’s second official live album was released with much bombast and an accompanying video; the question you’re probably all asking is “Is it any good?”. Well that’s a two part answer, there are really excellent things about it and some not so desirable things too. I’m going to start with the good and then point out it’s shortcomings.
First off, the production is crystal clear. This was one of the first metal concerts to be recorded using Sony digital tape and it really shows. You can even hear Ian Hill’s bass if you listen carefully! Another positive point is the performances themselves are excellent. Rob Halford had recently cleaned up his addictions and he's absolutely on fire here, hitting all the highs with ease and confidence. Songs such as Breakin' the Law and Heading Out to the Highway have extra lead breaks and solos not on their original studio versions.
Lastly, the increase of tempo really helps some songs. Freewheel Burning in particular borders on thrash!
Now for the negative: I've always said good album art, while not necessary, is an asset. This album has probably one of the ugliest sleeves I've ever seen on an official commercially released product, take a look for yourself. Next, this album was recorded on the Turbo tour. Take what you will from that fact but I feel that the amount of Turbo songs in the set list really detracts from the album. Especially considering Out in the Cold is the first track! I'm not sure who thought opening the set with a ballad was a good idea but it doesn't set the mood well at all.
Overall, it's pretty enjoyable but the set list just kills it for me. Now to be fair, the band has said in interviews that they didn't include classics such as The Ripper or Tyrant because they were already on Unleashed in the East. I understand not wanting to repeat themselves but I believe that with less emphasis on Turbo and more tracks from bonafide heavy metal classics like Screaming for Vengeance and British Steel, it would've made a good live album even better.
Many so-called 'professional' reviewers have bashed this album for being of very inferior quality and showcasing Judas Priest rapidly declining as a band. Well, I say fuck them, because Priest really comes alive on this album!
The album contains a decent mix of old and new songs, good and bad ones
The tracks range between ones that suck, and have always sucked, like 'Out in the Cold' and 'Turbo Lover', songs that sound pretty much like the originals, albeit with a crowd of fans going nuts, like 'Some Heads Are Gonna Roll' and 'Heading Out to the Highway', and songs that actually work out really good as live tracks, 'Metal Gods' and, especially, 'Living After Midnight' really stand out here.
One of the coolest things about livealbuma is, obviously, the whole 'live feeling', and that works out really well on this album. Hearing the crowd go crazy shouting 'Priest! Priest! Priest! Priest!' and their satisfied cheering when Halford reveals one classic after another is something really awesome.
Some tracks, most obviously 'Breaking the Law', suffer from the mistake that many bands do live: it's played at a way way way too fast speed, which suits it really badly, and destroys the otherwise so beloved riff...
On the other hand, when 'Living After Midnight' kicks off, I tend to get goosebumps because of the collective shouts from the crowd - a really really awesome feeling. Also, the solo in the song has been changed and is a great improvement over the original.
There are almost no of Judas Priest's early songs present on the album - actually there are none from the pre-British Steel era, so this works nice as a continuation where Unleashed in the East left off.
Some of Halford's speeches honestly tend to get annoying at times, when he for the sixth time starts shouting 'Let me hear you say OH YEAH!' and you start thinking 'get on with it already!'.
However, these things are insignificant and overall this IS a very good live record, and can be recommended to any Priest fan that like this stuff from British Steel and up.