House of Blues, Orlando, FL July 26, 2012
As a longtime fan with a deep-down passion for the band since their 1984 debut, I've been a bit hard on Stryper lately. Since they reunited in the early 2000s, I've been disappointed by a seemingly calculated departure from their longstanding Christian message. And quite frankly, I found their recent musical efforts to remain "current," as well as their 2011 cover tunes album, to be colossal missteps. However, the Stryper I saw tonight was the classic Stryper: the loud, proud, bold, and beautiful So-Cal poster boys who first enticed me with their God-meets-glam brand of arena rock when I was just a lad. In a word, this show can best be described as amazing. Um, make that two words: flippin' amazing. Okay maybe three words: absolutely flippin' amazing!
With intro tape rolling and their mighty remake of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" blasting over the P.A. system, the curtain rolled open. And as if they'd been cryogenically preserved since 1991, the metal missionaries took the stage by great force, kicking off the show with their fist-pumping 1986 anthem, "The Sing Along Song." Early band staples such as "Loud 'N' Clear," "The Rock That Makes Me Roll," and "Reach Out" ensued. Uh, wait a second, this show was shaping up to be a Stryper-classic showcase -- rats, I forgot my Depends! And yes, just like the good ol' days, the boys once again maimed unsuspecting fans with a barrage of projectile mini-bibles fired into the crowd from the stage. Ah, good stuff, to be sure.
After initial front-of-house sound issues were resolved and drummer Robert Sweet's broken snare drum was (quickly) repaired, fans were treated to "Calling on You" and "Free" -- a double-whammy from the 1986 To Hell with the Devil record.
Stryper has always been acknowledged as a supremely talented rock band -- four musical virtuosos -- and tonight they certainly did not disappoint. Lead guitarist Oz Fox and bassist Timothy Gaines both brought plenty of game, showing younger enthusiasts just how the big boys do it. And despite his (unnecessary) frequent in-between-song excuses about not being up to the task, frontman Michael Sweet delivered the goods, successfully demonstrating his signature vocal gymnastics throughout the show.
Still promoting what I believe to be their rather pointless 2011 remakes record, Stryper served up a couple of well-known cover tunes: "Shout it Out Loud" from Kiss and Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law."
And as the show entered its home stretch, the ever-chatty Michael Sweet took a moment to tout his band's current all-original line-up and to hype a new "back to our roots" Stryper record tentatively set for a 2013 release. After nearly thirty years, these are impressive accomplishments indeed.
However, I found one aspect of Stryper's show to be particularly perplexing. Drummer Robert Sweet is an iconic powerhouse -- rock's ultimate showman -- continuing to annihilate his contemporaries. So why on earth is such a superstar-caliber performer stuck at the back of the stage, hidden behind racks of amplifiers and guitar speakers? Not only does this guy need to be out front, he should be placed on his own stage, right in the middle of the crowd for all to easily bask in his awesomeness. Just sayin'.
The set came to a bone-crushing crescendo with the nut-busting doubleheader of "To Hell with the Devil" and "Soldiers Under Command." But the boys weren't quite done. Before officially calling it a night, Michael Sweet returned center stage to lead the crowd in a heartfelt closing prayer. Speaking with more pure and honest passion than I've heard in a long time, Sweet lifted up, glorified, and honored the name of Jesus Christ for all with ears to hear.
Yes kids, Stryper is back -- loud, proud, bold, beautiful, and once again, completely on-message. C'mon!