Christian Metal. It’s hard to take seriously, though if any genre is compatible with the Christian church, it’s metal’s ornate virtuosity, the anguished cries, and front-men who can’t resist a messianic pose or two.
So with that said, the pinnacle of this particular genre is Stryper. Always has, and always will be. But I’m not here to give you a history lesson, which you can just wiki for yourself if you like.
First off, I have to say that I don’t like being negative when I write about music, especially Christian music, because I’m sure these guys are totally earnest and honest with what they are doing, so I don’t want to come across like I’m disrespecting that, nor do I want to disrespect the Sweet family in what has been a tragic year in their lives, and in that regard, my thoughts and prayers go out to them.
But ultimately, Michael Sweet and his band are the ones going out there on the road (for several weeks of shows) and asking people to buy tickets and other paraphernalia, so to that extent, I feel like it’s fair game to give my honest thoughts about my experience.
Which brings us to Sunday night, when Stryper came to Toronto on their 25th anniversary tour, which while a fun time, also smacks of being a real-life Spinal Tap (Spinal Tapian?) adventure.
Though this is the band’s 25th anniversary tour, and is touring with all four original members, it wasn’t exactly envisioned out that way. A “new” version of Stryper just put out an album called “Murder by Pride” and apparently they were going to do a split set, one with the “new” band doing the new stuff, then the “old” band doing classics for the anniversary. However, somewhere along the line the new bass player decided that he couldn’t take the time off of work for the tour. It was good news for fans anyways, because that means the original four members are doing a 90 minute set with no break.
For fans with deep pockets, the band has also been selling “backstage passes” for 50 bucks which lets fans check out the band’s soundcheck, a free copy of “Murder by Pride,” get 1 piece of Stryper gear signed, and I quote from their blog, “Get your picture taken with the band, using your own camera.”
Apparently for their stop in Toronto, all the passes were sold out, so obviously the demand for this kind of thing is there. However, it seems like anyone who went to this, didn’t write or post any of it online… I wish I knew someone who did, because it sounds so deliciously awkward.
Opening for the band that night were local Christian metal rockers Forevertree, who actually had a pretty decent modern rock/metal kind of sound, with some explicitly Christian lyrics, which I ultimately have to give them respect for. Despite being unknown by the older crowd there that night, they rocked excellently and won over as much of the audience as they were going to. If you’re curious, please give them a listen here.
Following them was one of the regular opening acts on this tour, a band called Flight Patterns, which you’ve never heard of before. Why? Because from what I can tell, is that their first official show was opening for Stryper on the first date of this tour, beyond that, the band has no official bio, just an EP on iTunes, a Tumblr photo blog (started a few weeks ago), and zero plays on last.fm.
So why are they on tour with Stryper? It turns out Flight Patterns features the guitar work of one Michael Sweet, Jr., son of the lead singer of Stryper. You can read Michael Sweet, Jr.’s first ever interview here if you’re curious.
Unfortunately, Flight Patterns is just not my kind of music… it’s more like a rock-jock emo kind of thing, and I’m not their target audience by any means (think Saves the Day or Hot Rod Circuit). Their singer Max Prussner was enjoyable, and I like his own recordings, but as for Flight Patterns, they were just not a good fit for the night.
If anyone from the band is reading this, please do the honourable thing and offer to go first for the rest of the tour… you seem like cool guys and I wish you the best of luck with your career, but please respect the other hardworking bands on your tour, bands like Forevertree, and offer to take the first place spot. Pay your dues.
Anyways, on with Stryper. They did indeed bring with them their classic stage setup to tiny Reverb at Queen and Bathurst (probably the grossest venue I’ve been to in a while), complete with Stryper banner and loads of black and yellow striped guitars and various “cabinets.” Though they were stamped with “MESA” logos, part of me suspects that some of them were dummy amps, meant to look impressive — not necessarily to push some air.
(Earlier that day the band’s massive van and trailer was clipped by a streetcar and blocked traffic for a while, which also sounds like a Spinal Tap like adventure, but I haven’t heard too many details about that).
Shortly before the band took to the stage, one of the crew came on stage to tell people that because of their “record label,” no one could take photos at all, except people with media passes, and only for the first three songs. This was pretty weird, not because of the media thing, because that’s actually a pretty common practice (thought not at the Reverb I imagine), but the fact that someone had to come on stage to announce this. Even worse, is that the band had a surly roadie that spent the entire set telling people with compact point-and-shoots to stop taking pictures. Nope, I’m not even kidding.
Worst of all? This apparently worked, because no photographic evidence of the band’s visit to Toronto seems to exist at all. Good for the band, I guess. As another aside: they seemed to have a disproportionately large crew for a venue that only holds 400 people, but I’m sure they were playing much larger venues other places on tour.
I also have to comment on the crowd: It seemed like the fans gathered were either 35 and up or 20 and under, and not really a lot of people aged in between. I even saw two teenagers that looked like they stepped directly out of “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” complete with long, feathered hair and tight black-and-yellow leather jackets. There was also another elder metalhead who wore skull rings on every finger, an upside-down cross around his neck and bright orange and yellow bellbottoms. He looked famous, but I wasn’t quite sure who he was. I would have also bought a T-Shirt, but they were only selling the “anniversary” shirts and they cost 30 bucks. Yikes!
But I digress.
When Stryper finally came out (with a path cleared through the crowd by security guards) and took to the stage wearing their custom black and yellow outfits, when it came to the music they did not disappoint . Everything was flawless, from the solos to the singing: the band had stage presence, and rocked so much harder than anyone their age has the right of doing. I was too young to enjoy the band when they were at the height of their popularity, but I recognized in them during that performance everything that made them great, and why people were so dedicated to them, and why they even had a number one video on MTV. I could have done without the Boston cover, and more of “Breaking the Law,” but they were simply fantastic. I’m very glad and very thankful that they brought their tour through Canada, and if they ever came back for a 30th anniversary tour, I wouldn’t hesitate to go again.