K.K Downing returned to the stage on Sunday night (3rd November 2019) for a blistering performance that marked his first full live show in almost a decade. Backed by a stellar band that included fellow former Judas Priest members Les Binks and Tim 'Ripper' Owens, the one-off event took place at K.K's venue, the Steel Mill, in Wolverhampton.
Put together in tandem with Megadeth bassist David Ellefson who also formed part of the all-star ensemble, the metal event of the year had been a long time coming for fans and supporters of the Judas Priest founder.
With attendees coming from as far away as Spain, Malta, Poland, and even Brazil, the special nature of the evening ensured an atmosphere electric, as the doors opened for a special pre-show signing and meet and greet with all the main players.
Following with a q&a that was poignant, celebratory, and most of all, good humoured and at times hilariously funny, the band completed by local guitarist A.J. Mills made their way backstage to prepare for the main event.
The crowd were then treated to sets by local hero and former Iron Maiden front man Blaze Bayley, and Ellefson's Sleeping Giants solo band, whose set was packed with Megadeth classics including 'The Conjuring', 'Dawn Patrol', and rarely aired gem 'Go to Hell'.
However, with his name above the door, this was K.K's night. Although only the second occasion he's stepped on stage since taking his final bow with Judas Priest in 2010 (the other being a guest spot at Bloodstock Festival this summer), you'd scarcely have known from the phenomenal performance that would unfold.
With all eyes on the guitarist, the band kicked off with an explosive 'Riding on the Wind' setting the scene for the evening ahead. With the band tighter and more on point than many that have been around for years, this was more than a mere show, but an event by a very special ensemble of musicians.
Going straight into a roof-raising 'The Green Manalishi (With the Two Pronged Crown)', the first big surprise of the night came with 'Hell is Home', the first of three tracks from the 'Ripper'-era. "You alright?", asked Owens introducing the 2001 song; "You like heavy metal? How about we take you to the 'Demolition' cd, right here?"
It was an auspicious start, and although coming from entirely separate eras of Priest history, Owens and drummer Les Binks - who had been a member of the Midlands' metallers between 1977 and 1979 - melded effortlessly, particularly on fiercely heavy 'Jugluator' onslaught 'Burn in Hell'.
With lights, pyro and sparks flying adding to the performance, stage right, the bass was being held down by Ellefson, who having earlier revealed his fandom to eonmusic, looked to be having the time of his life.
But it was Downing who rightly shone, playing like his life depended on it, and throwing shapes to rival those of his prime with Judas Priest. Defying the years, and arrestingly agile, this was no rehash, but classic K.K. Downing; impassioned, reinvigorated, and oozing sheer (Stained) class.
With flawless fretwork, the guitar legend reminded the world just how he helped propel Judas Priest to its greatest successes, going on to nail such classics as 'Between the Hammer and the Anvil' ("I never got to do this one when I was in Priest" - Owens), and a riveting 'Metal Gods' in a set that was hand-picked by Downing himself.
"What a crowd. This is fantastic", said Ripper, himself reunited with his one time guitar slinger for the first time since 2003.
As the night neared its climax Sleeping Giants returned to the stage to join the band for the encores of an obligatory 'Breaking The Law', and triumphant 'Taking on the World'. And it was that band's singer, Thom Hazaert, who best summed the night declaring; "We're making history right here, tonight in Wolverhampton".
Following the show, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2020 nominee released a video to Facebook thanking fans for coming to the show, and hinting at the possibility of more live dates to come. With Judas Priest's 50th anniversary being celebrated next year, it would seem that the world has not heard its last notes from K.K. Downing.
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Check out our gallery from the show below. All photos by Eamon O'Neill.