Stryper was part of Budweiser’s Rock Empire Tour, featuring Queensryche, Great White, Vixen and (in Texas) Gandhi’s Gun (on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2019).
When I heard reports that the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park was discounting tickets at $10, I was worried about a small crowd. All the hard rockers in and around Austin proved that notion wrong by packing the place in. It wasn’t sold out, but the floor and seats were pretty full.
They were treated to a lots of loud ear candy.
Stryper came on after a rousing set by Great White, fronted by Mitch Malloy. “Rock Me” and “Once Bitten (Twice Shy)” ended their time on a high, energetic note.
Stryper came on with no announcement and proceeded to launch into “Yahweh,” which set the tone with immediate power metal — chugga-chunk riffs, fiery lead breaks, screaming and a wall-of-sound rhythm section. While Stryper has never ever been weak, they’ve certainly sprinkled lots of pop and polish into their live shows. Not today!
I got emotional and felt immense pride, pleasure and respect seeing this band declare the greatness of “Yahweh.” What does the Bible say about “the Lord inhabiting the praises of His people?” There’s something about worship that’s mystical. Maybe this song is anointed or something, because it sure is powerful and declares boldly that Jesus is God. It’s like the epitome of Christian heavy metal. Lyrically, it’s a simple fact-telling of Jesus and what He went through on Good Friday. The screams are of the “yaaaahhhh” variety, but there’s no hint of mellow in the riffs. It’s a frontal attack of distortion and it packs a wallop.
Without skipping a beat, they slammed into “The Valley,” which furthered the campaign of musical toughness and biblical lyrics. Anyone that’s heard the God Damn Evil album knew inside that these songs would just kill live. That’s totally the case. The new bass player, Perry Richardson, and drummer Robert Sweet were locked in and Michael Sweet and Oz Fox were just crunching and wailing away — power chords, leads, power chords, leads. Some of Stryper’s pop metal critics back in the day used to dream of tunes like this.
For its third song, Michael paused and asked the audience if they missed 1986. They went into “Calling on You,” which is certainly one of their best and most signature songs. On this night, however, it was missing an essential element — the background vocals were only about 25% present. Oz brings an invaluable element to the Stryper sound with his pitch-perfect and powerful pipes, yet his vocals seemed to either be mixed a little low or perhaps his voice was suffering some jet lag from their recent slew of shows in South America. Add to that the performer’s decision by Michael to let the crowd (try to) sing along and a massive part of the chorus is just missing. Fortunately, Michael sang a little more than half of the choruses.
“Calling on You” segued into “Free,” which has got to be one of the greatest transitions in Christian metal (right up there with Deliverance’s “If You Will” into “The Call”).
Michael talked about how the new songs felt as important and vibrant (my words) as the old ones, but then said, “We’re about to sing an old one, so I don’t know why I’m saying this.” They played “Sing Along Song,” “Surrender” and a rarely-played “All For One.”
“Soldiers Under Command” and “More than a Man” were tight and heavy. There were a lot of Stryper fans in the arena, and they were singing along. The band brought out a third guitarist guest for “To Hell with the Devil” — Vixen’s Britt Lightning on guitar.
Queensryche came out next and rocked hard. New vocalist, Todd La Torre (ex Crimson Glory), really does sound a lot like Geoff Tate — not a copycat, but he fills that sonic space well. They played only one song (!) from Operation Mindcrime — the title track. It sounded great, as did “Jet City Woman” and “Silent Lucidity.” They reached back and played “Queen of the Ryche,” which sounded nice and heavy.
Overall, this was a nice touring match-up of bands. The night sounded well and rocked very hard.
[Review and all photos by Doug Van Pelt]