1986 was a big year for rock ‘n roll music. It was the year Bon Jovi released “Slippery When Wet,” Cinderella and Tesla both released their debut records and metal icons, Ozzy Osborne and Iron Maiden each offered up new lps as well. 1986 was also the year that Stryper changed the game with the release of their third album, “To Hell with the Devil.” While most albums of the day were influenced by themes of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, Stryper had an entirely different muse for their music…Jesus Christ. “To Hell with the Devil” featured songs inspired by the band member’s collective faith and belief in God. Despite Stryper’s radically different approach, the band found huge success with the album reaching platinum status, the singles receiving heavy rotation on MTV and a Grammy nomination for the record as well.
As hard as it is to believe, it has now been thirty years since Stryper released “To Hell with the Devil. “ To celebrate, the band has embarked on a nationwide tour to celebrate their classic album. I was very fortunate to catch a performance of this special tour on Sunday night at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, OH. This was a show that had long been on my bucket list to see. All that I can say is that it was worth the wait. There were many things about this show that made it so amazing. Perhaps lead singer/guitarist, Michael Sweet pointed out the most special part of the evening when he recognized that the band on the Alrosa stage was the band’s original line up. Sweet, along with Ozz Fox (guitars), Robert Sweet (drums) and Tim Gaines were the guys there in 1986, and they were the ones playing here thirty years later in 2016. This is certainly a rarity for most bands from that era. In order to make the anniversary shows authentic, the guys in the band donned their iconic yellow and black stage wear for the night. It was almost as if the band didn’t take the album into 2016, but rather took the crowd back to 1986. That certainly would have been okay with Michael Sweet, as he expressed his love for the decade to the crowd. Sweet explained that just about everything was better in the eighties, except that it is a little easier to spot the women out in the crowd. This was of course a poke at the big hair glam scene of the eighties. The singer took things one step further with a good natured jab at his drummer and brother by saying that Robert was always getting taken for a woman back in the day.
The members and their look were not the only thing that remained reminiscent of the 1986 version of the band. The band sounded every bit as tight as they did on the original recording of the album. It was clear by the effort that each member of the band put into their performance, this tour was no quick money grab. Michael Sweet’s vocals were every bit as powerful as they have ever been. The crowd was in awe as the singer displayed his dynamic range and hit notes that could have easily been lost in the course of the years. If anything, I would say his voice has only gotten better over the years. The entire band played with intensity and purpose that the Columbus fans ate up.
The night started with a brief video that looked back at the “To Hell with the Devil” album and touring cycle then lead into a countdown to the band taking the stage. When the countdown reached zero, the band hit the first note of “To Hell with the Devil” then went on to play the album chronologically in its entirety. While some of the tunes have been staples in the band’s live set for years, Sweet revealed that there were some that have not been played in a number of years, such as “All of Me.” It didn’t matter how much each song had been performed in the past, on this night each one sounded sharp and powerful. When the last track of “To Hell with the Devil” had been played, the band took a short break and came back out to play a second set of songs from the band’s other albums, as well as some cover tunes. The band’s performance of “Yahweh,” from last year’s album, “Fallen,” was perhaps my favorite tune of the night. It really proves that while the band may be celebrating a record from three decades ago, they are still writing great music today with their original message and purpose. The cover of Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” as featured on the bands 2011 album, “The Covering,” was another highlight performance among many.
As a believer and follower of Christ, and a huge fan of rock n’ roll music, I know that the two worlds do not always go together very well. Many of today’s most popular acts turn down their noses and flat out denounce anything having to do with God and Christianity. That is why there are some bands that you will never see on this site, no matter how popular they may be. That is why attending the Stryper show was so special for me to witness as a music fan, but more importantly as a believer. Hearing not only the lyrics of the songs, but also Michael Sweet encouraging the crowd to trust in Jesus and to pray to him was so uplifting. It was equally as cool to see the crowd’s reaction to the band. Next to me was a father with his two sons sharing the experience. I also saw friends at the show who I know are not believers, but who still love the band’s music. Everyone just let everyone be. The only thing close to pushing and shoving came when fans tried to grab a copy of the New Testaments that the band members tossed out during the course of the show, and even that was a very cordial process.
There were many people who took Stryper as joke when they first came on the scene. I think it is safe to say that after thirty years we can still say “To Hell with the Devil,” and Stryper are the real deal!!! Now, how about an anniversary tour of “In God We Trust” in 2018????
Stryper: Alrosa Villa – Columbus, OH – 11/13/2016
– To Hell With the Devil
– Calling on You
– The Way
– Sing Along Song
– Holding On
– Rockin’ the World
– All of Me
– More Than a Man
– In God We Trust
– Heaven and Hell (Black Sabbath)
– Shout it out Loud (Kiss)
– Caught in the Middle
– Soldiers Under Command
– Makes Me Wanna Sing