@ Newcastle Metro Radio Arena, July 20 2011

One of the most eclectic bills in recent memory threw together the definitive metal band, the thinking man’s prog metal act and a bunch of rising stars who owe everything to classic rock. The combination proved killer. 

Those who missed openers Rival Sons, hailing from the fringes of LA, may rue that decision for some time. Hardly the obvious warm-up for Priest’s leather and studs bluster they nevertheless delivered retro-soaked rock n’ roll, replete with harmonica, slide guitar et al, with real aplomb.

Second album Pressure & Time is a precise experiment in British-influenced bluesy class and transfers well to the live stage. Frontman Jay Buchanan is almost too cool for school but the songs stand up to the image – and then some.

Guitarist Scott Holiday’s refusal to retire to the wings in spite of an unfortunate power cut only served to further endear Rival Sons to an initially sceptical crowd and it’s clear these boys have a very big future indeed.

Queensryche had some act to follow and for once the Seattle progsters rolled out the perfect set without the hindrance of technical problems or dubious song selection.

Wisely veering away from new (and atrocious) album Dedicated To Chaos, the bulk of this show was a hit-laden romp down memory lane. The hat-trick of Jet City Woman, Empire and Eyes Of A Stranger never sounded so good and energised frontman Geoff Tate was far removed from the tentative, almost indifferent individual we’ve come to fear at recent UK festivals.

Never wholly suited to support slots or festival sets, due to the nature of their over-complicated and often lengthy tunes, the ‘Ryche have often struggled to condense their obvious quality into a focused, succinct and powerful show. In Newcastle that was never a problem and this was the best performance we’ve seen from the band for many, many years.

So to Priest and the much-vaunted Epitaph set. Several years ago, at the same venue, the crowds were already departing mid-set, bored rigid and wishing co-headliners Scorpions had stayed on stage for just a little longer. Thankfully this dynamic display proved Priest is back – but for how long, nobody seems certain.

Hit after hit rocked the vacuous Metro Radio Arena to its core but it was the lighter side of Rob Halford and co. which left the weightiest impression. The Joan Baez cover of Diamonds & Dust was almost ethereal in its delivery and Beyond The Realms Of Death was a heady highlight.

Sadly, Halford chose to direct the karaoke/instrumental version of Breaking The Law but it was the one complaint on a night punctuated by regular moments of unabashed pleasure.

The iconic sight of the bald-headed Brummie re-entering the stage aboard his sparkling motorcycle is one of the classic images of metal and an anthemic encore had leather-wearing die-hards and denim-clad new converts (ok, so there weren’t too many of them) dancing out of the car park and into the night.

As Epitaphs go this made a lasting impression likely to go down in metal folklore.

Simon Rushworth