So smack dab in the middle of my fantastic Valentine weekend I was able to enjoy some Jesus Love thanks to Amps and Green Screens! When I was young and in my own all girl metal band, I had the distinct privilege of being invited to a STRYPER concert. I still have the Bible that I caught out in the audience at that very show. I was impressed with their musical ability then and I am extremely impressed today. Sometimes as singers get older they are not as well able to access their instrument like they were in their youth. Michael Sweet still has extraordinary vocal tenacity and did not disappoint. His high notes were superhumanly powerful and his range is still astronomical!
The show at Gas Monkey Live started off with an almost ominous-sounding vocal resonance like an angelic choir of only male voices. A red, black and yellow version of the unmistakable STRYPER logo with the words Isaiah 53:5 beneath it was the backdrop for the evening. Of course I had to Google the Bible verse and refresh my memory. In front of that backdrop, Robert Fox’s drums were strategically placed sideways so that the audience could see his hard as nails drum techniques.
The show opener was “Yahweh” off of their 2015 Fallen release. With crunching rhythms and dueling leads, heavy as any metal band today, they powered through that song until just before the very end where Michael Sweet asked everyone to sing. As the audience chanted “Yahweh” Michael Sweet threw the small compact Bibles they are so well known for, out into the crowd and fell to his knees with his hands together in prayer.
As they started “The Valley” from 2018‘s God Damn Evil, I noticed the two video screens on either side of the stage had striped images of Jesus’ face. As they continued to throw out Bibles and guitar picks people clamored to get them as though they were ravenous animals. At one point a disagreement over who had touched a pick first looked like it was going to lead into a fistfight, but within seconds the anger unraveled and the love between Christians emerged victorious. It was something I had never seen at a concert before.
“Calling On You” followed with unmistakable guitar riffs that everyone knew. This was an MTV favorite in 1986. Michael Sweet coaxed the crowd into singing once again and every word was sung loud and proud. Screaming leads between Oz Fox and Sweet led into “Free” also from the 1986 release “To Hell WithThe Devil.” Perry Richardson had his five string bass hung low as he expertly painted musical masterpieces.
After powering through a high energy performance of “More Than a Man” Sweet took a moment to ask the audience, “Who here has seen STRYPER before?“ Almost everyone in the audience raised their hands. Then he asked, “Who has never seen STRYPER before today?“ Surprisingly, there were a number of hands that went up and he asked them jokingly, “What took you so long?“ He admitted how humbling it was to be on stage inspiring people with “The Message”. He said “We need the inspiration of love, grace and mercy.” “Loving You” followed up with classic guitar rhythms and “Surrender” from their 1985 release Soldiers Under Command had Michael Sweet belting out his unmistakable soaring rock screams.
At this point I realized I could feel the drums in my heart and throat! As Sweet took a moment to dedicate the next song to everyone who had ever gotten married to it, the song “Honestly” echoed through the hall as people burst into applause and screams. He asked to hear our beautiful voices and the audience obliged lovingly. Michael sang like an angel and he asked the crowd to finish it out with the word…Honestly.
“In God We Trust” had some scorching lead solos and searing back and forth melodic question/answer type play between Fox and Sweet. Behind them were your classic Marshall stacks exhibiting a full power performance. “Always There For You” highlighted beautiful three-part vocal harmonies throughout. One thing I noticed about their presence was there were no silky striped spandex pants, just creatively decorated black jeans decorated with Concho‘s, crosses and accented with yellow stripes, yellow lacings and a yellow bandanna. There seemed to be more hair than back in the 80’s because now a couple of them have beards.
Sweet’s lead solo on “All For One” actually made him dance entertainingly. It seemed like he was having the time of his life. He then took a moment to give us a little history about the band and how it came to be. He talked about how they were shaped musically by Scorpions and Van Halen when they were in school. For some reason he got a kick out of talking to the people in the VIP section and before long had a Little screaming competition between those of us in front of the stage and the people in said section. The sound was almost deafening.
“The Way” gave us super fast guitar licks and pounding drums. Michael Sweet put on a Frank Sinatra-styled hat at that point as they sang more three-part harmonies. The light show highlighted lots of yellow moving LEDs with the occasional red piercing through. I was a little disappointed that there was no follow spot because Michael was singing in the dark a number of times when he came over to the side of the stage. I didn’t let it ruin my enjoyment though, and I doubt anyone else really noticed. Sweet asked if there were any soldiers under command in the audience and that was the crowd’s cue to go wild! Oz Fox got theatrical and flashy as he traded lead solos with Michael in complete synchronicity and effortlessness.
A quick encore break and they were back at it with “Sing-Along Song” of course, having the audience sing along. Once again three part harmonies were a highlight. “To Hell With the Devil” had them fully enjoying themselves, dancing around and having fun. You could really tell they were loving what they were doing. Oz Fox licked his fret board as the band wrapped up their last song showing that they truly are a rock band after all. When Rob came out from behind the drum set he kissed Bibles before throwing them out into the audience for the grand finale and Michael gave us a blessing before leaving the stage.
All in all it was truly an outstanding show and I’m sure they could’ve gone on for hours and hours playing hits that the audience would have loved. Everyone seemed delighted to be there and almost sad to see it end. I was certainly happy to be there and had a great time!
LIVE IMAGES: JOE GUZMAN/GUZPIX
LIVE WORDS: DEBBIE IRENE IDE