by Michael McCarthy
Last Saturday night on 5/12/18, I was fortunate enough to catch Stryper live for the third time in my life. It feels weird admitting that, that it was only my third time seeing them, because they’ve been one of my all-time favorite bands – easily in my top 5 – since I first heard them when I was in junior high circa 1986. By now, I feel like I should have caught them live ten times like I saw Motley Crue, another of my top 5 bands. I’m sure I would have if they’d been around throughout the entire ’90s and touring as often, but for the past 15 years or so that they’ve been back, I just wasn’t aware that they were performing live nearly as often as they were. I made the mistake of relying on Ticketmaster’s weekly newsletter to inform me when my favorite bands were playing in my area. Little did I know that there is a whole world of venues where heavy metal acts are still performing that simply do not sell their tickets through Ticketmaster. So, if you’re a Stryper fan and you’d like to see them live, I highly suggest you check out the tour dates on their website so that you might discover when they’re playing your neck of the woods.
If you haven’t seen Stryper live before, let me start by telling you this: they are a veritable force to be reckoned with. They take to the stage like warriors beginning a triumphant battle, beaming with confidence and armed to the teeth. It just so happens that Stryper’s weapons are their instruments and voices.
Front and center, as always, is Michael Sweet, lead vocalist extraordinaire and co-lead guitarist. To his left, co-lead guitarist and background vocalist Oz Fox. To his right, the band’s new bassist and background vocalist, Perry Richardson, formerly of FireHouse. And behind them all is the man they refer to as their visual timekeeper, Robert Sweet, one of heavy metal’s all-time greatest drummers, who also contributes backing vocals. Together, they transform into Stryper, the Optimus Prime of heavy metal bands, fighting for the side of good, which happens to be that of one’s Lord and savior Jesus Christ and his proud papa, the big man upstairs, Yahweh.
Speaking of “Yahweh,” that’s the song the band kicked off their set with Saturday night. It hails from their 2015 album, Fallen, and it’s an epic song if ever there was one, the album version clocking in at over 6 minutes long. It begins with “Yahweh, Yahweh, Yahweh” being chanted over and over, which sounded fantastic live with Robert, Perry and Oz harmonizing on it. As for Michael, let’s just say his voice hasn’t been tarnished with age. If anything, it’s even shinier now. You could say it’s a fine French wine of the highest quality, aged over 30 years. Seriously, his pipes are just as powerful today as they were in the ’80s. And his control over them has not diminished at all.
“The Valley,” the band’s blistering current single, followed “Yahweh” and sounded even better live than it does on their spectacular new album, God Damn Evil, which is essential listening for the Stryper fan, not unlike To Hell with The Devil. Next up were “Calling On You” and “Free,” two of the biggest hits of the band’s career. Hearing them so early in the set was a real treat, as I’d figured they would be at the very end, probably closing out the night. During these and the songs that followed, the dual lead guitar attack of Michael and Oz was ferocious and nothing short of invigorating. And Robert didn’t miss a beat – literally. Man, can he pound the skins. I remember Metal Edge magazine giving out awards every year back in the day and the winner for best drummer was always either Tommy Lee or Robert, which I mention only to illustrate the caliber of drummer he is. Watching and listening to him pulverize his massive drum kit all night had me headbanging like everyone did in the ’80s.
I won’t ramble off the entire set list because I don’t want to ruin the element of surprise for those of you who’ve yet to catch them on this tour yet, but I do have to mention a couple more tunes. The real surprise of the night for me was “Lady,” the beautiful ballad from their criminally under-rated album, Against the Law. I never thought I’d hear that one live so the second I heard Michael play the opening chords, I found myself covered in goosebumps. It sounded so, so good live, as did “Can’t Live Without Your Love,” the precious ballad from God Damn Evil. (They may or may not have done another one of their ballads, I refuse to say.)
One of the things that really moved me was how most of the audience was singing along to the band’s new tunes. Most of Stryper’s peers couldn’t pull that off, the average Joe who goes to a heavy metal concert always wanting to hear the old stuff that makes them nostalgic and nothing more. Sure, many of those artists are also pumping out new albums, but when it comes to playing live you’re lucky if you hear two new songs and you always see half the crowd hitting the restrooms or making a beer run while they’re performed. This is far from being the case with Stryper, whose new tunes excited the crowd as much as their biggest hits. Witnessing this put me in a state of euphoria because I usually seem to be the only person in the audience singing along to new songs at heavy metal shows. Seeing so many other people doing so at Stryper, was awe-inspiring.
The bottom line? If you get the chance to see Stryper, I promise you it’ll be a highlight of your life. Their live show is that damn good.