Judas Priest, Neko Case & Nashville Cream '90s Night 

British Steel in the hour of chaos
Arriving to Wednesday night's Judas Priest show just after 7 p.m.—prime tailgating time—we were dismayed to find the lot adjacent to Municipal Auditorium virtually empty. It was neither heavy nor metal, and while we weren't expecting a scene as uproarious as a Priest show a quarter-century ago, we did expect to see something. A little let down, we made our way over to the sympathetic old arena hellbent for leather and ready to rock.

Even when we make it to a show at a reasonable hour, some sort of force majeure will manage to impede us. In the case of this show, it was a will-call mix-up that resulted in a 45-minute wait to get our tickets straightened out. While this snafu caused us to miss all of opener Pop Evil's set and about half of direct support act Whitesnake's, it did provide us the perfect people-watching opportunity. Of course the lionish manes of feathered locks and bygone fashion trends of '80s hair metal and mulleted pimple-faced heshers were in full effect—albeit now donned by 45-year-olds as opposed to 20-year-olds. We were delighted to see familiar faces from Grimey's staffers to William Tyler to Chris Crofton grinning with excitement as they mingled among the metalheads. Finally, our tickets were delivered to us by none other than Mark Slaughter—no joke, he was working with the promoter—and we entered the arena alongside Kip Winger.

By the time we made it into the show room—which was far from sold out—Whitesnake's two guitar players were in the midst of a shredding duel that was being filmed by every camera phone in the house. This of course led into a song that ended with a drum solo, making Whitesnake's set feel like a Sunday afternoon stroll through Guitar Center. Lead singer David Coverdale gallivanted about the stage intoning like a Medieval Times host and matching false harmonics with his squealing howls. Realizing that there was no better time and place to party than this, we decided to start double-fisting tallboys and taking whiskey shots. By the time the band busted into their monster ballad "Here I Go Again," we were singing along to the choruses with all the un-ironic gusto we could muster.

After a brief intermission, it was time for the main event—Judas Priest playing their classic British Steel in its entirety. At first, we were a little miffed that the show didn't start with Rob Halford's signature Harley-ridin' stage entrance, but we got over that as soon as we heard how utterly flawless the band sounded. With nary a word uttered between songs, the band plowed through the record with a precision that matched the metal god status that precedes them. Halford—who opted for bedazzled denim as opposed to leather—ruled our ears with soaring vocals over deafening guitarmonies and thundering drums. As we took in the spectacle of flashing lights, thousands of fists in the air—most doing devil horns—and the iconic image of leather-clad guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton rocking side by side in unison, we quickly realized that the experience of seeing Judas Priest "hammer out some metal" at Municipal Auditorium was one that is essential to rock 'n' roll appreciation.

The British Steel performance was followed by an array of other classics such as "The Ripper" and "Victim of Changes," each sounding as heavy as the one before. The true highlight of the show came during the encore set, when Halford—now clad head to toe in shiny studded leather—finally rode the Harley on stage and led the band through a merciless version of "Freewheel Burning" that was accompanied by a visual onslaught of laser lights. As we ended the night standing on folding chairs drunkenly shouting along to the closing choruses of "You've Got Another Thing Comin','' we felt confident that we'd "lived it up" in style.

Case in point
The Internet has gone a long way in fetishizing the minutiae of famous people's lives. We're not sure that the world is a better place for knowing that Miranda Lambert bought a bikini and a pistol at the same store (Bass Pro) or that Hayley Williams threw up (she's OK)—but, uh, we know that kind of stuff, thanks to Twitter. So when we sat in front of The Ryman Saturday night waiting for our companion to show up, we felt almost chagrined to see Neko Case walk around the front of her tour bus pulling a rolly bag like some prole trying to make a flight in time. It didn't help that she was having to ward off a trio of douchetastic autograph hounds.

"You'll just put them on eBay," she deflected, barely giving her pursuers a second look. A member of the event staff hastened the gang's departure, and they skulked off into the night, glossy photo envelopes wagging in the breeze. As thrilled as we were by a close encounter of the Case kind, we hoped that this glimpse of her mortality, albeit brief, would not detract from the show.

It did not.

If anything, the contrast between Case's down-to-earthiness—she kept joking about how tight her dress was, for instance—and the utterly celestial tilt of her voice made the evening that much more magical. It certainly didn't hurt that her band was flawless, or that the visuals—projected onto a screen framed in the upper right by a gigantic owl—were nifty, or that backup singer Kelly Hogan cracked wise at all the right moments.

It was the kind of show where even the songs you don't really care for on the albums sounded great. For us, that would be "Margaret vs. Pauline," from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, which always struck us as kind of dowdy, but was compellingly rich in this context. Case & Co. paid frequent tribute to both the venue and its staff, seeming to revel in their historic environs.

When Case sang the thrilling last moments of "This Tornado Loves You," we almost got up and left, just because we wanted that to be the last thing we remembered about the show—it was that good—but as the band walked offstage and the please-give-us-more applause just started to reach the level of a good late-summer thunderstorm, Case was already on her way back to the microphone. The rolly bag could wait, and we weren't about to argue with that.

Kids those days
We wouldn't believe it if we weren't there ourselves, but it happened: A '90s covers night came and went without "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Indeed, without any Nirvana. But there were three Weezer songs performed throughout the night! Two from Pinkerton! Clearly Nashville musicians have memories of the '90s that are in no way influenced by reminiscing about VH1.

Anyway, Nashville Cream's final 8 off 8th covers night at Mercy Lounge started off with Martians Go Home, a one-off Hum cover band that played "Green to Me," the minor hit "Stars" and "Iron Clad Lou," a.k.a. the song Filter ripped off for "Hey Man Nice Shot" or whatever it's called.

The aggressive good-time art rockers The Mattoid were up next, and managed to turn '90s prom theme "My Heart Will Go On" into a menacing jam about having sex in a car on a boat. They closed out their set with two fresh-off-the-Jock-Jams-cassette club hits, "It's a Fine Day" and "Rhythm Is a Dancer."

Next up, Ocelots answered a question we didn't even know we were asking: Will R&B and hip-hop be totally ignored during this, their most amazing decade? A thousand times no! TLC's "Waterfalls" somehow works perfectly as a rock song. Special attention must be paid to the dude who managed to bust out Left Eye's rap: He nailed it. A nearby stranger said that the guy was a kid in Kids, but we're pretty sure he's a liar. Soon thereafter, The Spin's note-taking devolved into a series of hearts and a "THIS=AWESOME" when And the Relatives busted out the one Weezer song we were hoping for: "Say It Ain't So." An absolute dream of a cover. We joined the rest of the crowd and un-self-consciously jammed out, air cymbals included.

The Carter Administration seemed to baffle a good percentage of the audience with their choices. They offered up renditions of Superchunk's "Precision Auto" and Sebadoh's "Rebound." Everyone who was already a record nerd in the '90s seemed pretty happy, though.

Shoot the Mountain's three-song set went from punchy to dramatic to operatic. "Song 2." "Tonight Tonight." "November Rain." Obviously, a string section was needed to pull of the last two tunes, and it worked like a dream. String sections should be mandatory. Faux-Corgan vocals should not.

The Privates' bassist Keith Lowen confided in The Spin that he wanted singer Dave Paulson to "get drunk and talk shit about the other bands." It didn't happen, but The Privates barely fucked up the songs they hadn't rehearsed, which included "Sex Type Thing" by Stone Temple Pilots, "Why Bother" by Weezer and "Possum Kingdom" by Toadies.

Shit Sandwich, the final act of the night, could be described as a full-on Monet: It looks good from a distance, but up close it's a big old mess. But that was the intent! They are named Shit Sandwich, guys. The one-off party band closed out the night with the alcoholic's anthem, "Tubthumping" and a heavy dose of feedback.

So that was the '90s. They've been over now for almost a decade. But the band T-shirts, boozy sing-alongs with friends at the bar, and that girl with blue hair all confirmed that, for this particular generation, they are probably not going to go away.

Next week: Covers of songs from the future! JK. We're done for now. Email thespin@nashvillescene.com.


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