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Judas Priest and Halford enjoying their second wind

There are heavy metal frontmen -- and then there's Rob Halford of Judas Priest. He's a character known for wearing 30 pounds of leather and studs, riding a motorcycle onstage, and needing oxygen afterward because he worked so impossibly hard.

''We've already had a couple of hot shows in Texas and Arizona this summer -- and I needed plenty of oxygen for those," says Halford. ''I always keep a couple of tanks in my bunk."

He may need them again Sunday at the Tweeter Center, where Judas Priest headlines what is sure to be an ear-splitting show with Queensryche. And you know Halford's Harley-Davidson will be there, too.

''I always think that a Harley-Davidson is like heavy metal. It smells, it's noisy, and it [makes some people angry], just like heavy metal," says Halford.

He's joking freely these days, because the fun is back for Judas Priest. For that matter, Halford is back as well. He left the band to pursue other projects in the early '90s. During that hiatus, Halford further rocked the metal world by revealing he's gay, a noteworthy admission in a genre not known for its ''Dr. Phil"-style disclosures. Halford returned to Priest last year when the band joined Ozzfest -- and was the last act on before Black Sabbath. Ozzy Osbourne's wife, Sharon, who directs the tour, made a special request to Priest, knowing that they and Sabbath were forged in the same tough British city of Birmingham.

''We've been in each other's company for years. We're very good friends," Halford says of Sabbath.

Judas Priest, which Halford originally joined in 1971, grew to multiplatinum prominence in the '80s, propelled by such hits as ''Living After Midnight," ''Breaking the Law," and ''You've Got Another Thing Comin'." They were masters of metal showmanship and once played the Orpheum Theatre in 1980 (headlining over Def Leppard), after which Halford was sprawled out in the dressing room, sucking more oxygen. That's not an image one soon forgets.

Nor does Halford forget the '80s, though the decade nearly killed him. ''You'd come off stage and get a bottle of Dom Perignon and get an ounce of cocaine up your nose," he says. ''The early '80s were very decadent, but I thank my higher power for helping me." He went through detox and has been clean and sober for years.

''The world can wear you down," he says on a serious note. ''It can be a head game and it's very easy to get lost. In the early days you'd get platnium records and you'd party every night and you'd use it as a crutch. . . . But at the end of the day, and this may sound twee, you realize that music is your best drug."

Judas Priest's comeback was further aided by this year's release of the ''Angel of Retribution" album, which remarkably shows a band that still has its creativity intact.

''We worked really hard on the record -- we worked for three months writing the songs," says Halford, referring to his shared role with guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing in that department.

''Our reunion was a long time coming, but we realized that Priest is something bigger than all of us," says Halford.

''We're not a nostalgia act," he adds. ''We're still a vital band that's out there. We go around the world supporting this new release and we're doing it with tremendous hunger and energy."

Bobby Coburn benefit: Bobby Coburn, the general manager of Harpers Ferry for the past 10-plus years, recently passed away after a short bout with cancer. ''Folks who have frequented Harpers Ferry over the years have come to know what we've always known, that behind Bobby's gruff exterior was a true gentleman, an affable character whose love of music was eclipsed only by his love for his family and friends," writes Ron Peleg, who works for the club. Tonight's show launches a benefit fund for Coburn's nephew and some proceeds will also go to the American Cancer Society. It features a sterling, funk-laced lineup of Entrain, Superhoney, and the Coalboilers/Another Planet.

Bits and pieces: Look for the White Stripes to do a small theater tour swinging through Boston in the fall. . . . And expect the Foo Fighters to play a local arena this fall. . . . The Irish Connections Festival runs this weekend at the Irish Cultural Center in Canton. Call 888-464-7474 or check . . . A free concert at the Regent Theatre next Wednesday features the Scissormen, Charlene Johnson, and Peter Angelos. . . . Jonathan Richman plays the Center for the Arts in Natick on Wednesday. Tonight: Pietasters at the Middle East Downstairs, E.J. Ouellette & Crazy Maggy at the Plough & Stars. . . . Tomorrow: The Knot at Harpers Ferry, Reed Foehl (of Acoustic Junction fame) at the Lizard Lounge, Edwin McCain and Jeffrey Gaines at the Paradise, the Derailers at Johnny D's, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones at the Sea Note in Hull. . . . Sunday: Maximo Park at the Middle East Downstairs, and electronic dance act VNV Nation at Axis.

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