STRYPER PUT ON AMAZING PERFORMANCE ONCE AGAIN
Date: June 23, 2016
Venue: The Rockpile
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Photos: Rob Ellis
Many people say that the two things that you can count on in this world are death and taxes. In terms of rock n’ roll concerts, one thing that you can always count on is that Stryper will deliver an amazing performance. I have admittedly been late to the Stryper party only really getting into the band in the last ten years and seeing them live for the first time back in 2009 at The Reverb in Toronto. I have always loved the song “Soldiers Under Command” back in the day but found the rest of the group’s material (although enjoyable) a bit too much on the poppier side of “heavy metal.” About ten years ago, perhaps as I was longing for some new music to listen to, I picked up Stryper‘s first live album 7 Weeks: Live In America, 2003 and I was hooked ever since!
Following Stryper‘s 2009 show in Toronto, I have had the pleasure of seeing the Christian rockers play live on three other occasions (2013 in Toronto, at the M3 Rock Festival in 2014 and again in Toronto in 2014) and each time, I have left very impressed with the group’s performance. Accordingly, it is a no brainer whenever I can catch Stryper play live since I just know that the group will put on an amazing performance. This year will be even better for me Stryper wise because in addition to the The Rockpile show, I will be able to catch the Christian rockers headline Rock N Skull in Joliet, Illinois, USA in late October and it appears that Stryper will be coming back to Toronto in the fall as part of their 30th year anniversary tour to celebrate the release of their iconic album To Hell With The Devil. Good times indeed!
As I have learned over the years, a Stryper crowd is unlike any other that I have encountered at heavy metal concerts. To start off, on top of the usual ’80s era heavy metal rockers, there are many Christians in the audience that might not attend any other non-Christian heavy metal band concerts. I am not sure why but this translates into the crowd coming earlier than usual to a Stryper show compared to other concerts that I have attended. Armed with this knowledge, I suggested to my friend and Sleaze Roxx contributor Eduardo that we arrive at the venue by 9:00 pm or so to get a good spot near the stage. I was quite surprised to see that there was already a sizeable crowd near the stage while opening act Second Pass played the last few songs of their set. I was slightly disappointed to have missed Second Pass‘ set as they always put on a good show highlighted by their strong original songs and singer Veronica McNamee‘s powerful voice. Unfortunately, I had made some very slight efforts but could not ascertain in advance of the show exactly which bands were going to open for Stryper.
I was expecting Stryper to start playing onstage at or after 11:00 pm as is customary for any headlining band at The Rockpile. It became evident that Stryper would be on next and for probably the first time in almost five years of frequenting The Rockpile, I would see a headlining band play prior to 11:00 pm at the venue. Eduardo and I ended up being about four or five rows back from the stage. This time around, I was not that concerned since a while back, I had checked with my Stryper loving Christian friend and photographer extraordinaire Rob Ellis to see if he would be attending Stryper‘s show. Rob confirmed that he would be attending and he graciously agreed to take and provide some photos for my upcoming concert review for Sleaze Roxx. Good times indeed! No need to say that the photos for this concert review got a significant upgrade with Rob taking the photos (thank you Rob!).
Stryper hit the stage running with “Yahmeh” from their stellar new album Fallen. Having seen Stryper play in the last few years and having not bothered checking their setlist from recent prior shows (since Stryper‘s setlist was not going to be a factor on whether I would go see them play live or not), I was curious to hear what the group’s setlist would be. With the Christian rockers embarking on a 30th year anniversary tour to celebrate their breakthrough album To Hell With The Devil in the fall of 2016, I was expecting Stryper‘s setlist to be light on material from that album and hopefully heavy on their last two very good studio albums — 2013’s No More Hell To Pay and 2015’s Fallen. While my hunch about the lack of material from To Hell With The Devil was correct on this night, Stryper didn’t play many songs from their last two studio albums. Instead, they dug deep into their back catalogue digging out some songs that I imagine that they have not played in a while such as “Rock The People” (which I was not familiar with but which sounded great) from 1990’s Against The Law and “Co’mon Rock” which dates back to their 1984 released Yellow And Black Attack EP.
I can’t remember after exactly which song but early on in the set, it seemed that Stryper frontman Michael Sweet had some guitar tuning issues and he eventually left the stage and turned the mic over to guitarist Oz Fox. At first, I thought that this might be a planned portion of the show as Fox joked with the audience recalling how Stryper played a venue in Toronto called Rock & Roll Heaven back in the day. At one point, a fan screamed that he had seen Stryper in Kitchener (about an hour away) back in 1981 (I believe) before bassist Tim Gaines playfully pointed out to Fox that the band was not in existence at that time! Fox continued seemingly comfortably chatting up the audience as he discussed various Canadian food staples that he always enjoys when coming to Canada including maple syrup and poutine. Eventually, Michael Sweet made his way back onstage and Stryper continued on without missing a beat.
A couple of things struck me as I watched Stryper play on this night. First of all, Michael Sweet is simply one amazing singer. While he joked that he was much younger than he really was, the man is over 50 years old but his voice still sounds so powerful and he can seemingly hit all those high notes 30 years later! It’s truly a testament to his God given talent but likely also hard work to maintain and take care of his amazing voice. Second of all, the guitar harmonies displayed by Michael Sweet and Oz Fox were simply stupendous. Clearly, this guitar tandem is very underrated. Iron Maiden‘s Dave Murray/Adrian Smith and Judas Priest‘s K.K. Downing/Glenn Tipton may get a lot of credit for being some of the best guitarist duos of all-time but it’s about time that Fox and Michael Sweet were considered alongside these greats. Third of all, Stryper always seem to sound so tight live and their latest performance at The Rockpile was no exception. The group simply killed it on this night!
One notable thing about Stryper compared to many ’80s era heavy metal bands still playing out there is that Stryper still have their original line-up which also includes drummer Robert Sweet. Speaking of the man who keeps the backbeat going, it was really cool to hear Michael Sweet talk about his older brother Robert including that his 15 year old older brother at the time let him join his band as a 12 year old.
Another fun and apparently never mimicked trademark from a Stryper show is the fact that the band members (mainly the Sweet brothers from what I can tell) toss bibles into the audience throughout the show. This time around, two bibles that were tossed landed very close to where I was standing including one bible that fell right in front of me. I had not seen that bible land and one of the gentlemen behind me quickly seemingly dove to the ground to get the bible. The next bible that came my way was actually caught in the air by Eduardo who surprisingly was kind enough to give it to me. I was able to return the favour (although I think I got the better end of the trade) when a guitar pick flew my way and I ended up giving it to Eduardo. Funny enough, the guitar pick landed on the ground and as many eyes frantically looked for it, I simply looked for a small yellow object which I found at the feet of one of the gentlemen whom I think had previously grabbed that bible that had landed on the ground right in front of me. This time, I was the quick one snatching the yellow guitar pick before anyone else even made a move. Good times indeed!
Although there were many Stryper staples that had been left off the setlist including “The Way,” “More Than A Man” and “Make Me Wanna Sing”, it was fun hearing Stryper play some different songs this time out including “Always There For You” and the title track from 1988’s In God We Trust. I also enjoyed some of the newer songs played including “God” from 2011’s The Covering, “Revelation” from 2013’s No More Hell To Pay and “King Of Kings” from 2015’s Fallen. Stryper threw in a few covers consisting of Judas Priest‘s “Breaking The Law” and KISS‘ “Shout It Out Loud.” It was certainly fun to hear those songs but at the same time, I would have largely preferred to hear some lesser known tracks from The Covering album such as “Over The Mountain” (Ozzy Osbourne) and “On Fire” (Van Halen). Stryper closed off their stellar set with the first song that I ever heard from them — the classic “Soldiers Under Command.” Perhaps as a way to wet everyone’s appetite, Stryper came back for an encore with a cool medley of three songs from their most popular album To Hell With The Devil consisting of “Calling On You,” “Free” and “To Hell With The Devil.”
Overall, Stryper put on yet another amazing performance and I am so glad that I will most likely get to see them play live two more times before the end of this year! Great times indeed!
02. You Know What To Do
03. Always There For You
04. Breaking The Law (Judas Priest cover)
07. Rock The People
08. Co’mon Rock
09. Shout It Out Loud (Kiss cover)
10. All For One
11. In God We Trust
12. King Of Kings
13. Soldiers Under Command
14. Calling On You / Free / To Hell With The Devil (medley)
Stryper playing “You Know What To Do” live on June 23, 2016:
Stryper playing “Revelation” live on June 23, 2016: