Max Watts, Sydney NSW
August 18th 2018
Support: Gypsy and The Radio Sun
The last time Stryper were in Sydney, was eight long years ago, and they played to a packed house at The Metro. I was totally blown away, by not only their musicianship, but also their professionalism, and their enthusiasm for their performance. This tour was on the back of No More Hell to Pay and it was the full classic line-up of Michael and Robert Sweet, Oz Fox and Timothy Gaines.
Fast forward to 2018, and this band looks quite different. Stryper have bid farewell, yet again, to Tim on bass, who has been replaced by Firehouse veteran, Perry Richardson. However, on top of this, the Australian tour is without the powerhouse, that is Oz Fox, on lead guitar/vocals. Unfortunately Oz was hospitalised last week in Las Vegas and had to stand down from the tour. The band could have quite easily postponed or cancelled the tour, but in true metal fashion, the show must go on, and they are playing here as a three piece. To my knowledge this will be the only time that the band has ever toured as a three piece; but please excuse me, I might be mistaken.
Tonight, again, is quite a packed house, and the cross section of the audience is worth mention and I actually feel quite young. We have your traditional metalheads and there is also a fair splattering of older ladies and gentlemen, and even a conservative element to the room. The supports for tonight were Gypsy and The Radio Sun.
Gypsy, in my opinion, have a lot of potential. I have seen them play before and genuinely enjoy watching them live, and I think this is because they are here for a good time. Tonight they had a half hour set, and within this time, they threw nearly every rock trick in to the mix. From spitting blood, on knee solos, throwing shirts in to the crowd and even home-made crowd beach balls, which were actually balloons. Now, to be honest not everything worked, being a support act, and hitting the stage at 8:30pm didn’t help their theatrical cause, but, they gave it a go, and they did it, believing in what they were doing. This I admire, and this is why I will keep coming back to watch these guys develop. I can’t wait to see how these guys turn out in a few years.
Next, The Radio Sun from Melbourne. Despite this being my first time seeing them, they are quite an established outfit with a number of albums under their belt, with their next being released later this month. Now these guys are tight, great musicians and have a passion for what they do. However, for me, this is where their performance seemed to stop. The songs, structured like pop/rock songs, with the verse/chorus, strong lead sections and well orchestrated, layered harmony vocals, particularly centred around the chorus melody lines, and this was pretty well the set. Unfortunately, the songs really didn’t connect with me and I think some tempo changes would have varied the set a little, providing some points of dynamic and providing a balance. I really need to get a copy of some of their studio work to give a fair summation of these guys, but tonight, unfortunately, they just did not resonate with me.
Stryper hit the stage in full swing and burst into more recent material, however, the gig opened with a very sincere message from Michael Sweet, outlining Oz’s current condition and explaining that the band, despite being one man down, will give it all they have got. This was a really nice touch, something that typically would dampen the beginning of a metal set, but under these circumstances, it was not only fitting, but warranted, and the crowd really appreciated this. Then, immediately proceeding Michael’s heartfelt introduction, an audio message from Oz was played over the PA, and the whole audience clapped in admiration and support. This was a really nice touch. To be honest, I was initially a little taken aback to see the empty side of the stage where Oz should be, however, Michael and Perry were determined to fill this gap as best they could from the opening track. The band sounded extremely tight and very clear. They have built a professional team around them who enable them to deliver a professional sounding show.
The band gave the new album, God Damn Evil, reasonable representation tonight, and the songs for me, ‘The Valley’, and the title track, fitted right in to the set. The new album is extremely strong, just as the two predecessors have been also. The band obviously still have a lot of songwriting ability in them and this came through very strong tonight.
Michael Sweet, in my opinion, is looking fresher than ever, and his vocals and guitar work are top notch. It is fairly common for lead vocalists, in particular, to lose a little bit of flare or range as they get older, but Michael definitely missed this memo. Michael definitely stood out for me tonight, as I expected he would, he is an amazing front man and vocalist. He also had a very tough gig, balancing out a band that has built its material from a dual guitar attack, heavily layered in guitar harmonies. If anything, the lack of Oz and the second guitar, highlighted just how heavy a lot of Stryper’s material actually is. Perry also really commanded the space tonight, and he seems to be fitting in so well with the unit. He is a fantastic musician and his vocal sound fits really well in to the harmony mix with the backing vocals. I have always wanted to see Firehouse play, and I think this will be closest I actually get. Robert, these days, as throughout his career, is the utmost theatrical drummer. He is a performance, quite literally, within himself, I love watching this guy play. His playing, conviction, and flair, really is the backbone of the band, and he literally keeps the band afloat from the kit. I really don’t think, that as a musician, he has gotten the accolades that he deserves throughout his career.
The song list tonight was pretty predictable, but this isn’t a bad thing. People have come to hear certain songs and immerse themselves across Stryper’s career and the band definitely didn’t disappoint. We were fortunate to hear classics such as ‘Calling on You’, ‘In God We Trust’, ‘Loving You’, ‘Always There for You’ and ‘Soldiers Under Command’, topped off with ‘To Hell With the Devil’ as an encore; to name a few. All of the material sounded fresh, meaning the back catalogue has stood the test of time, tonight being proof of that. It would have been easy for the band to just come over and play a full set of the classics, but I love it, and find it refreshing to see bands putting legitimacy in to their later tracks by playing them live and backing them as performers, and not just song writers.
The audience tonight definitely came equipped with the back catalogue firmly imprinted on their collective brains and so they hung on every lyric and every note. No one tonight could have gone away disappointed with this set and there sure didn’t look like there were any disappointed people walking out. Yes, Oz Fox was a notable absence tonight, however, the set didn’t suffer from it, all be it a little lighter in guitar harmony. I am so glad I got to see Stryper again, and immerse myself within these amazing songs. My final thought tonight, is that I can’t see these guys hanging up the guitars any time soon on the back of this performance, they still have it, as song writers and performers, and there are still plenty of people who are keen to see them play. Let’s hope that Oz makes a speedy recovery and is back within the live fold soon and they are back in twelve months as Michael eluded.
by Mark Snedden
Revisit our interview with Stryper‘s Michael Sweet right here
Stryper – God Damn Evil Australian Tour
Sun 19 Aug – The Gov | Adelaide
Tues 21 Aug – The Triffid | Brisbane