Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford frequently referred to his band as “The Priest” Friday night at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, as if it were a living, breathing entity unto itself. Which, in a way, it is.
Forty years after releasing their first album, they remain a mighty force in heavy metal. Halford’s voice is still an amazing thing: an instrument of near-operatic power. And though longtime guitarist K.K. Downing retired in 2011, his replacement, Richie Faulkner, has helped the band make a seamless transition to the present, which includes an album, Redeemer of Souls (released this summer) that doesn’t exactly break new ground but has enough raw power and dark beauty to please fans, anyway.
They played four Redeemer of Souls songs at the Meadowlands, including show-opener “Dragonaut,” though the show peaked with the vintage epic, “Victim of Changes.” The rhythm section excelled on “Devil’s Child,” which requires, and received, a sense of swing along with The Priest’s customary drive. “Beyond the Realms of Death” was also a bit of a change of pace, with a seething menace before the explosion.
Their best known songs — “Breaking the Law,” “Hell Bent for Leather” (with Halford returning to the stage on a motorcycle), “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” “Living After Midnight” — were crammed together at the end of the show, before the show-closing singalong anthem, “Defenders of the Faith.”
The “Faith” referred to in that song, of course, is heavy metal itself.
Judas Priest has never been known for its sense of humor, so it was odd to see the hair-metal parody group Steel Panther in the opening slot. Even odder, since Judas Priest doesn’t really have anything to do with hair-metal in the first place.
Still, Steel Panther was quite entertaining, with genuinely catchy, well-played songs and a stage show that combined ridiculously over-the-top sexual boasting with relentless preening — there was an onstage mirror, surrounded with lightbulbs, for singer Michael Starr and bassist Lexxi Foxx to check their hair. They got the bratty sense of entitlement of such a band just right: When guitarist Satchel berated the crowd for not making noise, he seemed as mature as a 6-year-old throwing a tantrum.
As required for a hair metal band, they took a break from the hedonistic rock for a power ballad, “Community Property”: Starr sang that while his heart belongs to his girlfriend, another part of his body was community property.
Spinal Tap, in comparison, is sophisticated and subtle. I’m still not sure what they were doing at a Judas Priest show, but Steel Panther was still good, silly fun.