“Thou Shalt Not Judge.”
This directive from the Bible is pointed at the believers. But I wish sometimes it would be taken to heart by the atheist and agnostic metal heads. Because if people would set aside their personal disdain for “Christian rock” and simply go to a show with an open mind, I’m willing to wager they’d “see the light,” or at least give a well-deserved tip of the hat to some great live acts who happen to have found their faith in God.
Such is the case with Stryper, and they reaffirmed my beliefs in them as a solid live metal act during their tour stop at the Oriental Theater in Denver. Led by the age-defying front-man Michael Sweet, the band blazed through a 20-track set that covered nearly every aspect of their nearly 40 years of “righteous rocking.”
There were a few things missing from a typical metal show, such as a haze of pot smoke, a throng of inebriated fans and a noticeable lack of profanity coming from the stage, but these things certainly weren’t missed. And yeah, in the long-standing tradition of the band’s live act, they threw out both guitar picks as well as some Stryper Bibles to eagerly receptive fans.
But if you ignore what wasn’t there and simply look at what was, here’s what you found: Four road-proven veterans playing seriously tight metal with stratospheric lead vocals, amazing guitar tones, hummable chorusing guitar solos and an energetic “turned sideways” drummer who worked hard to earn his reputation as the “visual timekeeper.” Chunky rhythms? Check. Meaty bass? Check. Pounding drums? Check.
All the elements you could want in a good-feeling heavy rock show were there in spades, including the yellow and black wardrobe, guitars and drum kit that sustain their signature look. There was no preaching. No gospel pitch. No call for prayer or other intrusive aspect that should put anyone at ill ease, regardless of what they believe.
This was the church of hard rock, and it was honestly pretty glorious.
The generous set-list touched on 10 records from the band’s entire career, favoring their biggest seller to date, the million-selling “To Hell With the Devil.” And while they included a number of MTV era classics, they also mixed in a considerable number of newer tracks. It’s worth noting that Stryper has only gotten heavier as they’ve gotten older. In fact, they re-worked the glossy “In God We Trust” from 1988 into a much heavier rendition that proved superior to the original.
A new track, “Transgressor,” kept the audience riveted, and drew a loud crowd cheer at the sudden break following the blistering solo. Sweet announced that “Sorry” was his grandkids favorite Stryper song, and it was chunky and chuggy in the best possible way. Michael expressed a tremendous amount of appreciation to the crowd for continuing to support the band and giving them the opportunity to keep doing what they love. It seemed sincere and humble. “All for One” featured a fantastic tandem solo section between Oz Fox and Michael Sweet. The one two punch encore of “Soldiers Under Command” and “To Hell With the Devil” was a spirited sing-along that brought the crowd a little closer to heaven.
Considering all the band has been through over the years, it’s remarkable they’re more potent than ever. The band broke up in 1993, and reunited 10 years later. For a while, Michael Sweet was working as a park ranger. He lost his wife to cancer and has endured multiple detached retinas requiring emergency surgery. That eye patch he’s wearing on the “Trangressor” video wasn’t there to make him look like a pirate. Oz Fox has suffered through seizures and life-threatening surgeries to treat multiple brain tumors. Through all these tribulations, and some others that are not even worth mentioning, somehow the brothers have managed to forgive and move forward. Though the narrow road has not been easy, “The Yellow and Black Attack” continues to roll ahead on it.
So God bless ‘em! While no band is perfect, and the guys in Stryper don’t claim to be, now about 40 years into their career they have come pretty damn close to perfecting a fantastic live rock show. Check them out on their current tour. They may just make a believer out of you.