Christian heavy metallers Stryper are in the midst of celebrating the 30th anniversary of their biggest album, To Hell with the Devil, which was released way back in October 1986 – I was just over a month old at the time – and have been touring it up to mark the occasion. On Sunday night, Stryper brought that celebration to New York’s Gramercy Theater, playing THWTD in its entirety before taking a short break and then playing a second set featuring some of the band’s other notable hits.
Before I get into Stryper, though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the band’s choice of opener – 15 year old Moriah Formica – who played a 30 minute set full of acoustic covers of iconic 80’s rock songs, and one original offering. Now, I’ve seen a lot of bad openers with some good ones mixed in, so I was naturally skeptical when I saw this short girl come out on stage and pick up an acoustic guitar. The old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” certainly applies here, because this kid is very, very talented and could have been up on stage singing the phone book. People would have listened. I had no idea who Moriah Formica was when I walked into the photo pit, but I’m fairly certain nobody in the venue will forget her name. Moriah’s song choices included hits by Bon Jovi, Skid Row and others. Check out this very talented girl on Spotify.
And then came the moment everyone was waiting for – Stryper was hitting the stage to play To Hell with the Devil in its entirety. I won’t talk much about their first set because it is what it is, one of the best Christian rock bands of all time playing the album that made their careers, start to finish. I will say, though, that I love when bands do that. I loved when RUSH played Moving Pictures start to finish, which I was able to see not once but twice, and Stryper playing the entire THWTD album front to back was pretty cool to hear, especially when it was also my first time seeing the band live. THWTD was always a great album, even if I didn’t hear it for the first time until about 10 years after its release – I was barely alive when the album came out, give me a break – and it’s still a great album played live 30 years later.
After running through THWTD, Stryper disappeared for a few minutes and gave everyone in attendance another 10 song set that included some of their more popular songs as well as covers of hits by the likes of Black Sabbath, KISS and Van Halen. Kicking off the second set was the song Yahweh from Stryper’s 2015 album Fallen, followed by 1988’s In God we Trust off the album of the same name, and then came the band’s epic rendition of Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell – the iconic Ronnie James Dio-fronted track from his first album with the band following the departure of Ozzy Osbourne, and a song that near impossible to recreate tactfully. Stryper very much did it justice, however. Also on offer in the form of a cover was Shout It out Loud by KISS, which is widely known as one of the band’s biggest songs. I’d have like to hear more of Stryper’s own material, but the covers were well done and provided a change of pace to the night.
Rounding out the second set were the heavily religiously themed God, Revelation, Surrender and Soldiers Under Command. The night concluded with the fan-chosen encore song, Makes Me Wanna Sing, and that was that. It’s been a long time coming, seeing Stryper for the first time. There aren’t many bands I grew up with who are still active and releasing new music, much less touring. Styper is one of a dying breed of bands that have been around seemingly forever, that I can remember listening to at an early age, that can still kick ass on stage and do so with the original lineup to boot. Stryper puts on a great show, replete with the same outfits they wore 30+ years ago when they first burst onto the scene as a bunch of long haired showmen who know how to rock.
Here’s hoping Stryper sticks around long enough to do a To Hell with the Devil 50th anniversary tour. Check out the photo gallery below.