While on a quick trip out of town to see family, I got to go to the Milwaukee Summerfest with my brother and brother-in-law to see the very first rock band I ever cared about, legendary metal gods Judas Priest.
I was into Priest in the early-to-mid ’80s when I was like six or seven years old, via my older brother who was obsessed with them during high school (and still kind of is to this day). My first favorite song was “Free Wheel Burning” and I also loved “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll.” My brother also got me into Ozzy and Queensrÿche at a rather precocious age; I’ve seen Ozzy (with Sabbath) and the ‘Rÿche before but never managed to see Judas Priest so I was pretty excited to go.
It turns out the Milwaukee Summerfest is an odd event and not really ideal for seeing awesome heavy metal bands, though great for fans of ’80s hard-rock cover bands. It is a lengthy event that takes place over 10 days or so, and they have multiple headliners each night all playing at around the same time on a dozen different stages. For example, on the night we went, Judas Priest played at the same time as Whitesnake and a little after No Doubt, among some other bands that I have heard of. But during the day, leading up to the main concert, there was a strange but occasionally cool mixture of different bands and music. There were a lot of cover bands, including a Bon Jovi tribute band who were kind of fun to watch for a bit but got old quickly. With all the cover bands, and hours spent walking around, we heard at least two performances of each of the following songs:
- “Separate Ways”
- “Crazy Train”
- “Don’t Stop Believing”
- “Wanted Dead or Alive.”
It was ok but repetitive after a while, and a little too heavy on the Journey. Anyways some of the bands were more interesting, and there was one small stage that had local Wisconsin bands playing original music where we happened to catch one duo worthy of a shout-out, called the Brothers Burn Mountain. These guys played acoustic guitar and drums and were pretty interesting. My brother bought some CDs from them and I am gonna link to their myspace and listen to them again sometime. The drummer had this fascinatingly weird style of playing that was both amusing and riveting… you have to check out the videos to see.
Judas Priest came on at 10:30 and we got to their stage about three hours early, but still too late to score seats or a spot to see them very well. Another hard-rock cover band played before them, and the crowd of metal fans was not exactly into it (during yet another Journey song the band commented on how the crowd seemed to get awfully angry every time they started playing keyboard — towards the end they “metaled it up” a little and finished with a couple of Metallica songs).
So eventually Priest really did play. Those dudes are old! But they sound amazing! It turns out the current Priest tour is a 30th-anniversary celebration of their British Steel album and they had a cool backdrop based on that album, and played most (or all?) of the songs from it.
The main problem was our inability to see much of the action. The stage (a ridiculously cool one sponsored by Harley Davidson and decorated with motorcycles) was surrounded by maybe 500 seats in long benches, but if you didn’t have one of those spots, there were no real sight-lines or other ways to see. There was a screen, but even that was hard to see over all the people standing on the benches. Oh, well. When I really stood up on tiptoes I could see the tops of the heads of Halford, Tipton, Downing, et al., and sometimes had a good shot of the screen.
So I missed a lot of the stage antics — and was surrounded partly by very drunk metal fans getting testy over their inability to see — but still had a lot of fun. Besides the British Steel stuff they played some other good songs too, including “Free Wheel Burning” as if to satisfy a dream I’ve nourished for 25 years. British Steel is a great album on its own, and even if you’re not a Priest fan you would recognize a lot of them, like this one (listen to Rob Halford’s voice! He is almost 68 years old!) :
Last week I was listening to the album in anticipation, and I was especially impressed by “Metal Gods” which is a sort of fan-favorite and reminds me of kraut rock, of all things. Check it:
My view wasn’t as good as all that, but here is a shot of the set from our spots:
Looking forward to more metal shows… I wish DC had more metal shows in town rather than way the hell out at JAXX…