The last time Stryper were in Adelaide was, incredibly, more than a quarter of a century ago, in a time when hair-metal was still king and grunge was still truly alternative.
Despite this previous gig being so long ago, I remember it well, mostly because it was so different from any other hard rock gig I’d been to at that point. I may have been barely old enough to drink but I had been to enough gigs already to know that it was highly unusual to be lining up outside Thebarton Theatre in the early afternoon sun to get into a venue that didn’t have beer on the menu. I put this down to Stryper, as a ‘Christian-metal’ band, trying to model good Christian behavior and encouraging a sober early bedtime for everyone on a Sunday.
This time around, it was a very different experience and a more typical rock gig.
Aside from the later hour and the serving of adult refreshments at The Gov, Stryper now had ex-Firehouse bassist Perry Richardson in the band and sadly, lead guitarist Oz Fox was not with the band for this tour. Only days before the band were due to leave for Australia, Oz suffered a brain seizure on stage in Las Vegas and was deemed not well enough to travel. With Oz’s blessing, the band decided to continue with the tour as a three-piece.
By the time support act Sonic Divide opened the show, there was a healthy sized crowd already at the venue and this first set of the night was full of enough epic sounding melodic rock to keep everyone in good spirits. The 6 piece’s big sound and the fact that the band’s guitarist formerly played with Disciple (an Adelaide Christian band who opened for Stryper all those years ago at the aforementioned earlier gig) made Sonic Divide a suitable and popular support tonight.
Second support act Rosemont (formerly Love Cream) seemed a little misplaced with their light-hearted vibe and somewhat funky pop-rock sound but they played well enough to keep the feel-good atmosphere in the room until Stryper made their appearance.
The headliners’ set started with frontman Michael Sweet making a low-key entrance to the stage to welcome everybody to the gig and to talk about the Oz Fox situation. From here it became obvious that this would be an intimate performance rather than a big over-the-top rock show. This seemed to suit the crowd who had filled The Gov on this Sunday evening and there was a genuinely warm feeling in the room between the band and the punters who had come to worship at the altar of Stryper. The set kicked off with a couple of more recent Stryper songs, Yahweh from their 2015 album Fallen and The Valley from the new album God Damn Evil. From here on, the set was mostly made up of classic 80s Stryper hits and tracks from the new album. The crowd sang along in full voice to classics Calling on You and Free from the To Hell with the Devil album which came early in the set, and everyone then seemed to embrace the newer material just as much as the more familiar classics. The set took a more casual turn when Michael brought out the acoustic guitar for a quiet solo rendition of Lady from the early 90s album Against the Law. From here on though, it was full steam ahead as the set was closed with rocking crowd-pleasers including Always There For You, Soldiers Under Command and To Hell with the Devil. There may have been an intimate feel to the show due to the banter coming from Michael Sweet between songs but the performance from the band was pure arena rock in execution and delivery. Relatively new bassist Perry Richardson still looks like the hair-metal rock star he was in Firehouse back in the early 90s, Robert Sweet still plays the drums like a true showman (all hair and sweat), and Michael’s playing and powerhouse vocals are still as great as they’ve always been.
As fantastic as this gig was, and as good as all three members of Stryper were tonight, the presence of Oz Fox was definitely missed. His lead guitar and backing vocals were the only things missing from the sound on the night and he would likely have been in the thoughts of most people in attendance. As the lights came on and the band left the stage I’m sure there were a lot of people praying for Oz to make a speedy recovery and hoping for another chance to see the full Stryper show in Australia in the not too distant future.
Review Contributed by Kym Robey