Judas Priest, Nostradamus tour, Hisense Arena, 130908

If ‘evvy metal had a stench, it’d definitely be the nauseating sting of Blue Stratos permeating chronic BO, stale weed and WASP shirts soaked in nine buck bourbon and Coke that hung, thick and oppressive, over the ten thousand or so dyed in the denim relics from Heavy Metal Parking Lot (Southern Hemisphere Chapter) herded into Hisense Arena.

(We quickly realise that a carefully timed air strike would, to paraphrase Bill Hicks, devastate the ranks of Melbourne’s service station attendants.)

Yes, it’s Saturday night in olde Melbourne town and the Priest are back in Oz for the first time ever (well, with Rob, anyway. They rocked up earlier this decade with their version of Blaze Bayley, one Timothy ‘Ripper’ Owens. See Rock Star for a fairly ropey approximation of how all that turned out…)

Image © 2008 Garth Jones

Taking the stage* like a quintet of Brummie metal grannies, it’s quickly clear that age will indeed weary even the most defiantly camp of Metal Gods. Cresting sixty to a man, (barring fraudulently billed ‘original drummer’ Scott Travis; he’s only in his mid ’40s), tonight’s show is less about ‘delivering the goods’ and more along the lines of ‘diamonds and rust’.

Perhaps fresh from The Laird, our man Halford shambled aimlessly about the stage like a homeless metal Liberace, resplendent in some sort of disco ball inspired Rasputin get up.

To his credit, though, the trademark doppler effect wail was mostly intact, and his subtext laden stock ramblings about solidarity and standing up and shouting and being true to yourself and all that were all rather endearing in a ‘loony distant uncle’ sort of way.

Image © 2008 Garth Jones

Dynamic guitar duo Glenn and KK are still nimble of finger, and kudos to them both for bravely busting out their kit from the ’86 Turbo tour. Mr Tipton is resplendent in ladies’ red pleather trousers, whilst Mr Downing has bravely cracked out the leather vest, no shirt combo reviled so eloquently by Patton Oswalt.

Together, though, they deploy an admirably histrionic payload of relentless dual axe oriented strafing runs.

Meanwhile, bass torturer Ian Hill continues to essay the role of a gene splicing of Derek Smalls and Geezer Butler, patrolling his allotted couple of square metres of stage with all the dignity that description suggests. His partner in rumbling heavy artillery thunder, the similarly unassuming and late to the party Scott Travis, does his job serviceably- he may even give Tommy Lee a run for his dosh in terms of overall ‘sticks tossed distractingly skywards’ per song.

There was definitely something amiss, though.

Image © 2008 Garth Jones

The general mood is lethargic- half of Halford’s act is based around varying excuses for a nice sit down- one of the more longwinded (I mean ‘epic’, clearly) numbers from the new album calls for the frontman to be unceremoniously shoved onstage astride a Repertory Theatre’s prop throne by a dude in an executioner’s hood, and even fetish club anthem/ set closer ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ is delivered in its entirety by our man slumped atop that trademark Harley, sapping the song of its inherent energy.

Still- the tunes and musicianship (see the aforementioned ‘diamonds’; ah, foreshadowing) held it all together when showmanship and overall energy lagged (that would be the ‘rust’ then): Painkiller, Breakin’ The Law, Metal Gods, Eat Me Alive, Another Thing Comin’, Green Manalishi and the mighty Sinner (no Deliverin’ The Goods, though, for shame!).

Nearly forty years of footy chants, subtextually suspect anthems and scorching widdly diddly proto-speed metal whip the crowd into a mildly agitated state of early middle-aged bonhomie. Yes, this crowd was so Luddite it still utilised butane…

Image © 2008 Garth Jones

It’s a strangely underwhelming experience, tempered with the delayed jubilation of seeing your (questionable) heroes from half a lifetime ago in the flesh.

Then it was all over, and like some cosmic sociologist’s joke, two mighty tribes, more alike in their zealotry than either would dare admit, squared off as they awayed into the brisk Melbourne night, witching hour ascendant: elated metal dudes and dudettes defiantly stared down the buzzing, beanie’d footy throng emerging from the MCG, and they stared back, and then we all decided to just get along.

Somewhere Rob Halford was smiling.

*And what a stage it is! Our heroes have clearly made the budgetarily shrewd decision to cart the ‘B-stage’ over; a couple of flags, the de rigeur backdrop with the spooky glowing eyes, another one incorporating the logo plus Union Jack and an elevator (!), as if all the sitting down wasn’t enough already, which Halford routinely employed to pop out of the top of the set like a cheeky leather-clad jack in the box, and that’s your lot. No wheezing Metal Mickey style transforming robo-stages or giant, fireworks spewing Nostradamus golems for you, Australia!