777 Lawrence Expressway in Santa Clara looks like any other nondescript building in any other shopping plaza. Tonight however, there is a tour bus parked in plain view in front, and upon further inspection of the parking lot, there is a sign (from God?): “3-5 Stryper”. Although the number “777” is not actually referenced by the Bible, the number “7” is traditionally associated with divine perfection. So it is with little surprise that Stryper’s return to the Bay Area would be to the hallowed grounds known as the Avalon Night Club.
Since my friends from BayAreaRocks.com were scheduled to interview one of the opening bands, we arrived at the venue nice and early at 6:15pm. As we walked up to the side door, we were informed that Stryper just finished an ungodly 3-hour sound check, and combined with the fact that their sound check was ‘closed’ (meaning they did not want any pagan eyes to see them go “Check 1-2-3… Check, Check…”), none of the openers even had any of their equipment on the stage yet. After about an hour delay, and interview done, the doors opened to let the parishioners in so they can begin to pray to the altar of Stryper!
According to the concert archive on their official website, Stryper’s last Bay Area performance was 20 years ago on September 21, 1990, yet before their disciple’s ears could relish in the glory of their Holiness, we would have to listen to three opening bands first. Radio Friendly took the stage promptly at 8pm and would be the only band of the night to outwardly preach to the ever-growing assembly. I honestly do not remember what their music was like because instead I was counting the amount of times they made a religious reference in between songs. I do recall that their guitar player Mark Hofman was quite good, so, who knows, maybe they will be the next Mark Tremonti and Creed?
Starting off the show with a local Christian rock band, I began to get the sinking feeling that ALL of the bands were going to be like this, but shortly after the second band Skinner hit the stage and proclaimed “We are not a Christian band”, I felt saved. Skinner was formed from the ashes of former Bay Area power metal and thrash band Imagika. During their first song, I would not have known this because due to a technical oversight, no sound was coming out of the singer’s microphone. I did hear the rest of the band however and could tell that they would stand out musically as the most intense band of the night. They were obviously not promoting a power metal image though, as bass player Jim Pegram mimicked Fieldy of KoRn and played his instrument low, drummer Ramon Ochoa had extremely fast double-bass drum triggers to rival any death metal band, and the fill-in 2nd guitar player was lead guitar player Robert Kolowitz’s 13 year-old son!
Equally as old as Stryper, another recently reformed mid-80’s ‘hair metal’ band, known as Cry Wolf, was the third and final support act. With collectively much less hair than their promotional photos from 1989, their current brand of straightforward rock and roll was much less ‘hair metal’ and yet another tangent of musical styles to open up the show. They played a mix of their older songs, such as Pretender from their self-titled debut, alongside new songs such as Falling Down and Dysfunctional from their latest effort called Twenty Ten. Although I was not familiar with either their material from 1990 or from 2010, it seems that they did not lose any momentum in that 20 year break, because the whole set really did rock! The only hint of 80’s ‘hair metal’ excess may have come from guitar player Steve McKnight’s clothing; whereas singer Tim Hall, bass player Phil Deckard, and drummer Chris Moore sported the modern-day rock standards such as jeans, Lucky 13 work shirt, or a simple buttoned-down shirt, Steve’s vertical-striped sleeveless vest and skin-tight pants with the shoestring ties going up both legs might have been a bit extravagant!
By now, the congregation at the Church of the Avalon Night Club has filled in quite nicely and is anxiously awaiting their Father’s Michael Sweet, Robert Sweet, Oz Fox, and Tim Gaines to rise up onto the stage, and as the clock bell rang out at 10:30pm, the house lights finally gave way and Mass has officially begun.
65% of the songs on their set list was from To Hell With the Devil, The Yellow and Black Attack, and Soldiers Under Command, all written and released before 1987. I don’t think anybody really wanted to hear anything written after that, so most of the other 35% was cover songs. Wait a minute, Stryper is playing covers?! The answer is YES, in February 2011 they released an album of cover songs “that inspired and helped to shape the band’s sound and musical identity.” While I find it interesting, as well as confusing, that a Christian rock band takes inspiration from…
1) The guy who snorted ants and bit the head off a bat (Ozzy Osbourne);
2) the creator of the ‘devil horns’ \m/ (Ronnie James Dio of Black Sabbath);
3) the philanderer (Gene Simmons of KISS);
4) the openly gay singer (Rob Halford of Judas Priest)
… I also found it refreshing to hear them play some of these covers!
Stryper is not one to preach their beliefs during the show, although it is obvious that their lyrics are Christian and speak for themselves in terms of the band’s faith. Instead, singer Michael Sweet spent much of his time in-between songs joking around with the crowd. At one point, he said “Tim and I are not wearing yellow tonight because we are both sick”, and that “Tim got sick at rehearsals and it’s now going around to the rest of us.” I’m still not sure what being sick has to do with whether or not you wear the trademark black and yellow, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind.
Later on, when drummer Robert Sweet’s kick-drum pedal broke and there was a one-minute delay to fix it, Michael joked that “this is the stand-up comedy portion of the show”, except he floundered and ended up not telling any jokes. The only ‘preach-y’ part of the show was near the end when Robert emerged from his drum kit and all four members of the band threw a handful of Bibles into the crowd, of which I actually caught one! I wonder now though… just what the hell is a “666” t-shirt wearing non-religious Jew going to do with a Stryper Bible?!
See a full gallery of Stryper and Cry Wolf photos, among other bands, at Alan Ralph‘s photo portfolio.