With the war to reclaim the live music scene from the years of lockdowns still raging, it is only fitting that one of its champions be a quartet of warriors who wield the mighty 6-string in one hand and the message of The Almighty in the other. Granted, 80s heavy metal stalwarts and Orange County natives Stryper have been holding a torch out for the musically starved masses at several points both during and immediately following the pandemic. But this May’s aptly dubbed Calling On You tour carries a particularly inspiring message of hope and defiance against adversity, one that points the way to a revived live music scene standing as tall, if not taller than it did prior to 2020. On the 26th day of the same month, brothers Michael and Robert Sweet, guitarist Richard “Oz Fox” Martinez and relative newcomer and bassist Perry Richardson would bring their musical extravaganza to the masses at Fort Lauderdale’s Culture Room.
Entering the stage to the sound of a massive, booming drum drone and a triumphant fanfare in the form of a pre-recorded overture, each member of the band entered to thunderous cheers, with the apex being reserved for lead vocalist and guitarist Michael Sweet. Though one might be tempted to compare the spectacle to the entry of a presiding bishop and his fold of governing elders into a raucous megachurch, the presentation was more in keeping with the traditional setting of a heavy metal concert rather than a liturgical one, with each member of the band sporting attire occupying a middle ground between the mundane visual of the “Against The Law” era of the band and the larger-than-life costumes of the band’s mid-80s high period. Nevertheless, between the blaring stripes of yellow and black decorating the stage set and the boisterous synthesis of melodic AOR after the mold of Styx and the metallic bluster of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, the event would prove anything but mundane.
Ascending to the empyreal realm with soaring melodies and heavy-ended riff work, Stryper would run the gamut of nearly every era of their 40 year history in what could be described as the most metallic incarnation of the band ever witnessed. Kicking off the set would be a rousing reminiscence of their 1988 smash “In God We Trust”, followed by a more mid-paced yet equally blaring anthem of explosive prophecy from their 2013 studio LP entry into the Frontiers Records (“No More Hell To Pay”) in “Revelation”, displaying the commonality in spirit between the band’s golden era and their current incarnation, but more importantly their enthusiasm and virtuosic prowess. At times Robert’s drum kit – which curiously had to be set up with the drummer facing the left side of the stage as there was no room for it to fit in the traditional way – was so powerful it seemed to overtake the entire arrangement, but the guitars and bass shone through regardless, and even double kick happy speeders like “The Rock That Makes Me Roll” and chunky, Accept-inspired crushers like “Divider” hit the target with four equally placed knuckles.
Perhaps even more impressive than the bottom-end that shook the floor beneath the throngs of onlookers was the sugary sweetness (no pun intended) that adorned the upper echelon of the arrangement. For a voice that has seen four decades of punishment in the studio and on the road, Michael Sweet’s soaring tenor sounded as bright and lustrous as ever, easily sailing through the most challenging anthems of the band’s formative years, be it the metallic thrill ride from the band’s debut EP “Loving You” or the light and airy balladry of “Honestly”. Likewise, the support vocal work provided by Oz and Perry did an ample job of emulating the lofty choir sound of the band’s studio work, with the chorus section of “Always There For You” being the brightest point of a consistent period of sunlight. But for those who came to this concert for an authentic experience, the high point of the whole performance was literally every lead guitar interchange between Oz and Michael, rivaling the masterful duels of Tipton vs. Downing and Smith vs. Murray at every turn and the individual displays of Michael in particular becoming almost Van Halenesque in execution.
After wrapping up the set with the epic, Dio-inspired march of 2015 LP “Fallen”’s opening epic “Yahweh”, it was pretty clear that a mere 17 chapters would not be enough for the audience to consider this a complete anthology. The subsequent encore, which consisted of the title anthems of Stryper’s two seminal LPs “Soldiers Under Command” and “To Hell With The Devil” respectively, was one for the ages. Despite over an hour of extended effort having elapsed, each member of the fold attacked every note like they had just entered the stage a second ago, and the crowd’s enthusiasm reciprocated in kind. It was the conclusion of a show that stands as one more notch in the belt of a band that many had written off as dead and buried many years ago, a fitting parallel to the Christian message of the resurrection of the body. Indeed, while many of the artists that seemingly supplanted Stryper in the 90s lay permanently defunct, they are still alive and kicking, and likely will for years to come if the display witnessed this past evening is any indication.
In God We Trust / Revelation / The Rock That Makes Me Roll / Loving You / More Than a Man / Surrender / Calling on You / Free / Sorry / Honestly / All for One / Always There for You / Divider / This I Pray / The Way / The Valley / Yahweh
Soldiers Under Command / To Hell With the Devil