Stryper’s 25th Anniversary Tour (House of Blues)
When you’re planning a trip, how often can you make the destination the 1980s? Stryper’s 25th Anniversary Tour afforded just such an opportunity. Stryper entered a genre (glam metal) better defined by sex, drugs and rock and roll than Christianity, but they took it and made it their own. Their videos were put in regular rotation on MTV (does anyone remember when MTV used to play music videos?) alongside the likes of Mötley Crüe, Poison and Ratt and enjoyed airplay and record sales, quite an accomplishment for a band with a religious message – they paved the way for a wider audience for Christian music.
Kenny Lewis (good friend and former drummer for several bands I sang with in the 1980s and early 90’s) informed be that he was going to be in Southern California as soundman for the Stryper tour, and I took the opportunity to spend some time with him and bother him while he was working. House of Blues in Anaheim seemed like the logical place to see the show – a glam metal band, playing in a venue that’s supposed to look like a giant Deep-South roadhouse, at “the happiest place on earth®” (where old Walt apparently invented illusion) – definitely falls under the ‘trippy” category. Keep in mind that you will need to take out a small loan for parking unless you pay attention. Parking at Downtown Disney is $6 per hour (charged in 20-minute increments) up to a maximum of $36 (which is easy to attain if you show up early and stay until the end of the show), but read the fine print – the first three hours are free, and the next two are free if you get validated (which House of Blues does.) I showed up very early – so early, in fact that Will Call didn’t have my tickets ready. Kenny came out and got me and brought me in to wait at the sound booth until the ticket window opened. The fun part of this was watching how a show gets set up; I tried not to bother Kenny too much while he did the sound check, and I certainly wasn’t going to touch the board. Michael Sweet, guitarist and lead vocalist did an extremely thorough test of all the microphones, monitors and speakers – the rest of the band appeared to do a cursory check of their instruments in a fraction of the time.
After sound was done they let fans in that had paid extra to meet the band, get pictures and autographs, and be treated to a run through of a couple of songs with the band in their street clothes. I wondered if they would be shaking the dust out of their signature yellow and black striped Spandex outfits for the show, but I’d have to wait to find out. The sound check sounded good, but Kenny told me that Michael Sweet was feeling ill and was going to have a difficult time singing – I have to take his word for it since it’s his job to know how to make the band sound good. After the last fan left, I walked out behind them to get my tickets, still wearing my camera. Important safety tip – unless you dropped some serious cash and signed away your life in blood for a media pass, you are not going to get into House of Blues with a professional-looking camera; it just isn’t going to happen. After dropping my camera off at the car, I waited in line for the doors to open and reunited with Kenny at the sound booth.
Stryper eventually took to the stage with a more updated look – gone was the big hair (with the exception of drummer Robert Sweet), and the Spandex of old (although they still dressed in black and yellow.) Sweet connected with the audience which resulted in an overwhelming show of support. The house was packed, hot and sweaty, but I felt safe from a stampede behind the sound board. The band was tight, and excelled in vocal harmonies (everyone sang except the drummer, and a guy named Charles played keyboards and sang backing vocals from offstage.) Sweet had a few rough spots where he let the audience sing some lines, but still showed a strong range. The band did a wide range of music from their 25-year history and added a metal version of Boston’s “Piece of Mind” that was a departure from the original version (Sweet filled in for the late, great Brad Delp on the last Boston tour). Of course it wouldn’t be a Stryper show if the audience doesn’t get pelted with mini-bibles; oh, yes, it’s all in good fun until someone loses an eye.
After the show, Kenny gave me a wrist band that would give me backstage access; I used it to help the road crew break down and load out, which I have to say was a great experience. The whole crew was great, and everybody treated each other with respect and welcomed me as if I were a regular crew member. I had donated an afro wig to Shaggy (the bus driver) by request of some of the crew, and he not only got called out on stage to put it on, he wore it for most of the time we were loading up the truck. It brought back memories of loading out back in my rock days back in Boston, but when all was loaded at 1 AM, I just wanted to go home and sleep. My car was the only one left in the parking lot – I drove out of the open gates, and although it might not have been the happiest place on earth, it sure was a lot of fun.