Iron Maiden Live In Concert
(Words - Ian Bell, Photos - Rodney Magazinovic)
Iron flippin' Maiden.
How heavy metal are they? Their lead singer flew the band's own jet (Ed Force One) into Adelaide on Wednesday. They are one of those 80's metal bands that have a legion of devotee's who will follow them to the ends of the Earth (and beyond). Like AC/DC they have a sound all their own and they haven't really strayed much from the sound their audience has loved for the last forty years. And like AC/DC they still release new music (some of which is pretty good stuff) but the main thing that keeps them popular is stomping into town on their own jumbo jet and melting people's faces off with blistering old school heavy metal, with a show full of impressive visuals, virtuosic playing, monsters, bombast and killer songs.
In the early 1980's, The New Wave of British Heavy Metal or NWOBHM, which apart from being the worst name for a musical movement ever, (and an even worse acronym) spawned Def Leppard, Diamond Head, Girlschool, dozens of others and of course Iron Maiden. Formed in 1975 they made a couple of albums with Paul Di'anno on lead vocals and built a solid reputation as a live act (their first album went into the charts at number 4). But after Di'Anno embraced the rock star life style a bit more enthusiastically than most, he was replaced by former Samson vocalist Bruce Dickenson and things changed forever. The Number of the Beast album released in 1982, turned them into an international stadium rock sensation. The quality of the songs, the twin guitar sound, massive production and the gale force powerhouse that was Dickinson's voice, along with lyrics that talked about Satan, the mistreatment of American Indians while being incredibly radio and MTV friendly quickly turned them into one of the biggest bands in the world. They may not have hit singles and the general public may only know a handful of their songs but their fans are fiercely loyal and in Thursdays audience there are fans from the USA, England, Japan and Brazil who are following the entire tour.
After an impressive set from fellow UK rockers The Raven Age, the stage is reset for Maiden's arrival. Disigned like a Mayan temple, the stage features a multi layer catwalk. The lights go down and an impressive video of Ed Force One trapped in the jungle being freed by a giant demonic hand serves as the introduction. Bruce Dickinson appears at the highest point of the walkway with a MacBeth style smouldering cauldron for the start of the opener If Eternity Should Fall from the latest album Book of Souls. Right from the get go, Iron Maidens sound is ferocious and tight as a drum.
In both their lyrics and live performances Maiden have always a good dose of the theatrics, singing about Ancient Mariners, Fighter Pilots, Soldiers, and all manner of beasts and things that go bump in the night. The set is heavy with songs from Book of Souls (they do six out of the ten songs on it) which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean there are a bunch of classic songs that get relegated to the bench.
Early in the set Dickinson mentions they'd be playing some new stuff and "legacy" material and that he noticed there was a fair amount of "legacy" fans in the audience. Speed of Light (Book of Souls) is pretty great and the reaction is strong, but when they crank into Children of the Damned from their breakthrough Number of the Beast album, the place goes absolutely crazy. There is a lot of activity on the stage the whole time, Maiden were one of the bands that wrote the live Metal rule book, so there is lot's of sudden running to the other side of the stage, flicking their hair around, and posing around with your guitars in 'rock' poses. Far and away the biggest exponent of all these moves in guitarist Janick Gers, who at 59 is contorting himself in impossible shapes, playing the guitar between his knees, throwing his guitar so it spins round his body and back into place, putting his leg on the top of a large speaker box at chest height and doing a kind of pony hop skip across the stage for much of the night. His antics are simultaneously ridiculous and the best thing ever. The rest of the axe men, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and bass player and main songwriter Steve Harris are all running about the stage too. They are all hitting 60 years old.
Nicko McBrain's impressive drum kit set back into the wall, making him seem like histories loudest hieroglyph. The oldest member of the band (63), he smashes the hell out of his kit with the power of somebody a third of his age. Dickinson (a mere spring chicken at 57) has long since ditched the spandex and studded wrist bands of the 80's and looks like a healthy man out for a bit of mountain climbing. His voice, despite reports he is a little unwell at present, could crush a motor vehicle at 60 paces. One of the most powerful voices in rock history.
Two more songs from the latest album, The Red & The Black and Tears of a Clown. The later is not the Smokey Robinson hit from the 60's but rather a song about Robin Williams, and an unlikely subject for a metal song. With every song there is a new backdrop. Not an image on a screen but a huge proper backdrop. Each one features the bands mascot, the mummified corpse known as Eddie. Eddie has been with the band all the way along since 1979. He appears in various guises on just about every record sleeve, picture disc, poster, t-shirt, badge, coffee mug and tie, in a supermarket of Maiden products to rival the Kings of Band Merch, KISS.
And when the screen for 1983's The Trooper is revealed the entire arena screams it's approval. Dickinson appears in a trooper jacket, waving a battle weary Union Jack and leading the devotees a glorious mass sing-a-long of the almost football stadium chant. Likewise the title song from '84's Powerslave album is a huge crowd favourite. One of the things the set them apart back in the day was their twin guitar sound. With the frantic drums and Harris' distinctive bass driving the rhythm the two guitarist would play the same lead breaks, creating a unique harmony. Since Adrian Smith returned to the line-up in 1999 after a ten year break, that twin guitar sound is a trio. It's a magnificent thing to hear live.
During The Book of Souls, an eight foot tall 'Mayan' Eddie stalks the stage. Threatening to cut Janicks throat with an axe, before having his heart ripped out by Bruce. It's all jolly good fun, like Alice Cooper getting beheaded or Gene Simmons spitting blood, but the sight of a white man ripping the heart from a pretty indigenous looking creature (all be it a stylized mummified corpse) made me feel a it uncomfortable. They return to Number of the Beast for a brilliant Hallowed Be They Name.
During Fear of the Dark, Bruce stops the band so he can stop a fight in the audience. "Hey you, that's not what a Maiden gig is about." followed by the mixed message "Give me the finger? Come back stage and I'll sort you out myself! Pick a window I hope you like hospital food!" Threatening to hospitalize somebody for fighting at your show is kind of contradictory (even if that hospital line was hilarious). The set finishes with the song called Iron Maiden from the 1980 album of the same name, their theme song and the only one that Bruce didn't sing on originally. A giant inflatable Eddie appears at the back of the stage and it's a bit Spinal Tap, but totally fantastic at the same time.
They return for The Number of the Beast and the roar as it starts is deafening. It is a fantastic song, played with gusto and virtuoso performance and the fans are loving it. The entire floor is seething with movement, head banging and devil's horns being thrown. It's fantastic.
Bruce Dickinson introduces Blood Brothers (Brave New World 2000) with a quite touching and sincere, explanation that, no matter what colour, sex, belief system, nationality you might be, when you go to a Maiden show everybody is family.
They finish with a celebratory Wasted Years (Wasted Years 1986) and at the end they come out to the front of the stage and throw guitar picks, drum sticks, sweat bands etc into the hungry crowd. I would have loved to hear 2 Minutes to Midnight, Aces High and in particular Run To The Hills. I understand that it's been thirty five years, and they are probably sick of playing it, but we are certainly not tired of hearing it. For the last couple of hours there has been fire cannons, dry ice, crazy metal guitar poses, triple guitar riffing, hair flicking, show stopping, mystical metal magic. One of the greatest shows on earth right now, without doubt!
If Eternity Should Fail (Book of Souls 2015)
Speed of Light (Book of Souls 2015)
Children of the Damned (The Number of the Beast 1982)
Tears of a Clown (Book of Souls 2015)
The Red & The Black (Book of Souls 2015)
The Trooper (Piece of Mind 1983)
Powerslave (Powerslave 1984)
Death or Glory (Book of Souls 2015)
The Books of Souls (Book of Souls 2015)
Hallowed Be Thy Name (The Number of the Beast 1982)
Fear of the Dark (Fear of the Dark 1992)
Iron Maiden (Iron Maiden 1980)
The Number of the Beast (The Number of the Beast 1982)
Blood Brothers (Brave New World 2000)
Wasted Years (Somewhere in Time 1986)