It doesn’t seem to take much for a band to release a greatest hits collection in this day and age. More often than not, it’s just about surviving long enough to release enough albums from which a “greatest hits” list can be drawn. And what’s the point of releasing such a collection when the only group that might be interested is comprised of die-hard fans that already have all the albums? A greatest hits album composed entirely of live songs is a fresh take on the idea, though, and the new Setlist collection from Legacy Recordings attempts to put that concept into action. Their look at Judas Priest, however, doesn’t do much for the band’s longtime fans, and serious flaws hold it back.
The album’s positive aspects mostly come from the fact that Judas Priest is one of the best live bands in the history of metal. Rob Halford’s amazing vocals are just as good on stage as they are in a recording studio. Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing show off a bit more on some songs than they do in the studio, throwing in guitar solos and getting creative on a number of songs. Hearing fans singing along with well-known lyrics enhances the live feel of the album, creating a better atmosphere than if the band was just performing without any fan interaction. The song selection is also a nice touch, drawing from a mix of the band’s well-known hits and some of their lesser-known songs, rather than just throwing in the singles like a traditional greatest hits album.
However, the biggest problem with this Setlist album is that it doesn’t give the band’s biggest fans much that they don’t already have. Judas Priest has already released five live albums in the US during their career, and ten of the 12 songs on Setlist come from three of those live albums: Unleashed in the East, Priest…Live!, and A Touch of Evil: Live. The other two are drawn from the Japanese import Priest, Live & Rare, meaning that longtime fans will already have most of these songs, and the most devoted ones will have all 12. Granted, that is essentially the point of a greatest hits collection, but the problem is compounded by the songs being completely out of order. This not only ruins the continuity of some tracks, but also creates a chaotic sound due to the subtle differences in Halford’s voice and the background crowd noise. It’s not easy to notice these differences at first, but sharp-eared listeners will easily pick out the changes between a song from 1979 and one from 2008.
The bonus material that is accessible through a computer is a nice touch, but overall this Setlist isn’t anything exceptional or necessary. Fans of the band that have never heard any of their live material might find this album appealing, but there are very few other people that will find anything of value here. This also ultimately reveals the downfall of greatest live hits albums. There is even less selection here than for traditional greatest hits albums, and there are way too many places where missteps can occur. Simply buying one of the band’s regular live albums will give a better idea of what Judas Priest sound like live, with the addition of greater band interaction with fans and flowing continuity to truly convey the experience of a live Priest show.