Rob Halford, vocalist of Judas Priest, performs at Fun Fun Fun Fest. Photo by Tina Phan/American-Statesman

By Andy O’Connor

Black Sabbath may be the godfathers of heavy metal, but when people are often asked to describe a metal band, their vision tends to look more like Judas Priest. They brought about many of metal’s tried and true characteristics — dueling lead guitars, miles of leather, and piercing vocals from the one and only Rob Halford — and their headlining performance at Fun Fun Fun Festival showed that they’re still the masters.

Judas Priest were leagues ahead of the bands that came before them on the Black Stage, not just in material, but in spectacle. Halford did not opt for a dramatic entrance, but him just walking out on stage created a louder applause than most bands’ whole performances. He exudes toughness, grace, and respect without any one of those clashing. Halford’s stage attire rivaled the video screens and shredding for attention, ranging from white gowns to more classically S&M-influenced looks to sheens of sparkles that are tougher than even your blackest of black jackets. Judas Priest’s reduced touring commitments have also helped his voice out. While he won’t match his 80s prime, he sounded better than he has in a while. Still, he was quite dependent on a fervent crowd to yell the chorus of “Hell Bent For Leather” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.” And yell they did – people serve the Metal God.

They created a setlist that was a summation of their career as a whole — faster songs indicative of their influence on speed metal, the more mid-tempo hits that brought them great success, and even their foray into glam metal, “Turbo Lover.” Of note were the two ballads they played, which rank among their finest moments. It was a shock to see “Victim of Changes” introduced so early – it was the fourth song in their set. Singing about the dangers of alcoholism may be a bit of a lost cause on a festival crowd, who cheered when Halford belted out “VICTIM OF CHANGESSSSSS” without really thinking what he’s singing about. “Beyond The Realms of Death,” set to visuals of volcanic planets and seemingly infinite stardust, was the band’s most soul-searing performance of the night, tempering down a feisty crowd with still commanding unprecedented attention. The song deals with suicide, which is a sensitive subject for most people but especially for this band, who were wrongly accused of driving James Vance, a teenage Judas Priest fan, to attempt suicide in 1985, leading to a highly publicized lawsuit in 1990. Accusations of subliminal messages can’t take down the band, which made the performance of “Death” even more powerful.

This show was also many Austinties’ introduction to new guitarist Richie Faulkner, who replaced founding member K.K. Downing. He fits the role perfectly — the flashier, longer-haired blonde foil to the more conservative (relatively speaking) Glenn Tipton. While their set consisted mostly of hits and tracks from their latest, Redeemer of Souls, they did bring out two deep cuts, “Jawbreaker” from Defenders of the Faith and “Devil’s Child” from Screaming for Vengeance. The only notable absences were “Electric Eye” and “Painkiller,” but unlike Danzig from FFF’s past, Judas Priest were respectful of curfews.

Don’t think they didn’t bring out the motorcycle during “Leather,” though. They couldn’t get away that easily. Halford perched on his bike will never become uncool, and that’ll be true if Judas Priest go on for another 10 years.