This past Saturday, the Stryper tour made a stop at Showcase Live in Foxboro, Mass. I have seen the band a few times before and they have always impressed me, so it was a no-brainer and I made the one and a half hour trek up the show. I had never been to the venue before, but it was large, had excellent lights and sound, was clean and was well run.
MASS was the opening band. I have never heard them before and apparently I am the only one because the place was full of people singing along and going crazy for this band. Apparently, they have been around since the 1980s and are old friends of Michael Sweet. They played a tight set with a lot of energy. They were really good, but just not my style (but again, I was clearly in the minority on that one, and the crowd loved them). MASS did impress me with their cover of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." The band nailed the music and the singer sounded perfect, so much so that it actually made the hair on my arm stand up.
Stryper had an early start time, and took the stage at just about 9:00 p.m. I had a spot standing about 10 feet in front of Oz Fox. As I wrote above, they have never let me down live, but far and away, this was the best I had ever heard the band sound. They opened with "Sing Along Song," which I never would have thought was a good opener, but it worked perfectly. From there, they pick and chose songs that ran the length of their career, and really, there was not a bad song played all night. Since they are touring in support of the new album of cover songs, The Covering, they did play a few songs off that album; specifically, "Over the Mountain," "Shout It Out Loud" and "Heaven & Hell." The band played together so well, and Michael's voice is so strong, that you just can not help but get sucked into the energy of the show.
I did have a few thoughts and observations watching the show this time around. Regarding Robert Sweet, I have always heard that he is an amazing drummer, and being a drummer myself, I always watch him play. He has always been solid, but has never quite blown me away. That changed this past Saturday night. Robert played with such power and intensity, and in a way I have never personally seen him play before, that I now understand how he earned that reputation. Another thing I really enjoyed was watching Oz Fox play. Sure the guy is a very talented guitarist and singer, but that is not why he kept drawing my attention. The reason is because, of all the four on stage, he seemed to be the most genuinely excited and happy to be up there playing. You could just get the sense by watching him that he truly loves what he does, appreciates the people that are there to see him, and really cares about delivering a great show every time. In this day and age, when 80s bands just don't put the effort in, it is nice to someone who actually cares as much as he clearly does. That is not meant as a knock at the rest of the band either, as all of them put on a show as well as a performance, it was just that Oz, in particular, stood out to me the most.
Finally, I had an observation about the crowd. Everyone knows Stryper is a band with a message, and whether you are there for a combination of the message and the music, or just the music, you know what to expect when you go see Stryper live, and there should be a certain amount of respect for their beliefs (and those of many others in attendance) when you walk in the door. I am not particularly religious, but I, along with 95% of the audience, was respectful of the views expressed. However, inevitably, at every Stryper show, there is always someone yelling out Satan references and sarcastic hallelujahs, trying to either (1) be funny, or (2) get a rise out of the band. For the most part, a Stryper crowd is older, and really should have matured past this level of juvenile humor. Do they really think they are being original by yelling those things out? Do they really think that in 28 years of performing, Stryper have never heard those "jokes" before? I simply do not understand why someone would pay to see a show, only to try to insult the band and ruin the enjoyment of those around them. In fact, I recently read a review of a Stryper show earlier on the tour where the review said he wore a Danzig shirt (specifically Danzig, because they question religion, and not Slayer because Tom Araya is a Christian), and that he got a dirty look from the band's tour manager. Again, why go to the show wearing specific clothes to try to cause a problem. It is a concert, not a debate, so the band is not going to notice, or quite frankly care, about your shirt. It is a level of immaturity that most leave when they graduate high school, but man, for those 5%....they just can not let it go.
One last note is just an observation of a culture clash from that same night. The club was double booked that night, and immediately following the Stryper show was an all-male tribute to Lady Gaga, called Rad Bromance (yes, that is funny). Well, the Stryper show ran a little long, and several of the Gaga fans showed up during the last few songs of their set. There were guys in full-on drag with half shirts, make-up and teased hair. (The irony of which is that such attire was actually typical of the 80s rock scene when Stryper was having their hey day). I even saw one guy in a Native American headdress. The costumes and effort that they put into their outfits was fantastic, and to see them standing amongst the Stryper fans, mostly in jeans and leather, was great. You have to love it when worlds collide.