Allegiant. Ardent. Committed. Devoted. Resolute. That’s how I’d describe the fans and the scene at a Stryper show… It’s intense, and definitely something worth experiencing for yourself if you haven’t yet.
On the eve of the band embarking on their 30th Anniversary tour for their now-classic 1986 album, To Hell With the Devil, Orange County, CA’s hard rock heavyweights Stryper played the final stop on their tour in support of their 11th studio album, 2015’s Fallen at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL. The 12 million-selling, Dove Award-winning and Grammy nominated Christian metal pioneers played an inspired, career-spanning set to the sold out theatre on September 23rd. The band chugged through newer fan favorites such as “Yahweh,” “Revelation,” “No More Hell to Pay,” and “God” which all maintain the classic Stryper sound, but have a strong modern production on the albums No More Hell to Pay and Fallen specifically. Never shy about recording and performing cover material, they also threw in a couple of ripping versions of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” and Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell.” Both of which appear on the band’s Covering album from 2007.
A Stryper crowd is an interesting mix of young, and mostly older types these days who are completely stoked to be there. From middle-aged rocker dudes still trying to look like younger 80’s versions of themselves complete with hair-dyed-dark, thick eye liner, and designer jeans, to the super-bleach-blonde soccer moms, and the average Joe’s sporting vintage Stryper tees clamoring for the elusive flicked picks… a Stryper gig is a bit like a time machine transporting you back to the days of big hair, spandex, and an optimism that’s largely missing in much of today’s music. A time period that lead singer Michael Sweet lamented about during the set asking: “Anyone else miss the 80’s?” as the crowd went nuts. (Check out my interview with Michael Sweet HERE).
There’s always been three categories of Stryper familiarity: 1) those who absolutely love them. 2) those who can’t stand them. And 3), the larger majority who are at least familiar with them, but aren’t necessarily moved to #1 or #2. I suppose this three-tier descriptor could describe any music act or entertainer for that matter, but it’s different with Stryper. Their faith-based message and bible-tossing has always (and still does) polarize people. But what distinguishes Stryper, and what helped carry them into mainstream crossover success, has always been their exceptional musicianship which rivals that of the most heralded hard rock artists out there, past and present. For the record, I’m in category #1. I’ve followed the band, and purchased (yes, paid for, not stole or illegally downloaded) nearly every Stryper album that they’ve released since 1984’s Yellow and Black Attack. Surprisingly however, this was my first time seeing the band live in all the years I’ve followed them. And they did not disappoint…
Stryper is one of the few 80’s-era bands recording and touring with all original members. The band is tight, the vocals are still soaring, and the passion exuded from the stage is palpable as evidenced by several concertgoers this night who were visibly moved to tears during a few of band’s seminal songs such as “Surrender,” “You Know What To Do,” and their biggest anthem, “Soldiers Under Command.” Other classics performed from their early days included “In God We Trust,” “Always There For You,” Co’mon Rock,” and “Lady.” The encore featured an unexpected medley of the best-known tracks from their classic album, To Hell with the Devil. This was a good preview to the band’s upcoming 30th anniversary tour for that album currently underway.
Opening the show was North Carolina’s Firehouse who may be one of those bands you forgot how much you liked back in the day until you hear the songs again. A couple of decades on, and it becomes easy to forget just how big bands like Firehouse were at one time. The 7 million selling quartet opened the show to a larger-than-expected fanbase who were mainly there to see them. Firehouse is one of those bands who have more “hit” songs than you may remember until you hear them and go “oh yeeeeaaaaahhhh, I know this song.” Tunes such as “Don’t Treat Me Bad,” “All She Wrote,” and the now-staple-wedding-ballads “Love of a Lifetime” and “When I Look Into Your Eyes,” had everyone singing and swaying to vocalist CJ Snare’s crooning. Firehouse is a talented band underneath their pop-rock veneer, and all four members are accomplished players as well as singers.
Postscript: Before leaving for the night, I made sure the Stryper march girl didn’t pack up before I had a chance to pick up my brand new yellow and black Stryper baseball hat. These days, I sport far fewer locks than the days when Stryper were MTV staples. As such, badass band baseball hats are mandatory hear gear at the gym, keeping in shape, while rocking out to my favorite Stryper tunes old and new. Co’mon Rock!!
This piece was originally published in AntiHero Magazine, October 2016