On Sunday I finally managed to see a band that’s been on my to-see list for a long, long time – the mighty Iron Maiden. In fact I had tickets to see them way at the Birmingham N.E.C. way back in late 1990 during their “No Prayer On The Road” tour, with thrash legends Anthrax as support, but for reasons that I can’t remember didn’t get to go.
Since singer Bruce Dickinson and third lead guitarist Adrian Smith rejoined the band in 1999 the group have alternated between “best of” tours and tours in support of new material. This year’s UK tour is one of the latter and is all about promoting 2015’s excellent double album “The Book Of Souls” and was held at the former N.I.A. in Birmingham, these days re-christened the Barclaycard Arena.
Having secured a standing ticket I made sure I was up in Birmingham in plenty of time to find parking and get to the venue well before the doors opened, and so I found myself enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and reading a book as joined a pretty short queue at 5:00pm. The doors opened a while later and after a short wait the assembled throng were allowed into the arena itself at around 6:00pm and I was lucky enough to find myself just four people from the barrier at the front of the stage, ensuring an excellent view of proceedings.
Around 7:30pm the selection of rock classics being played through the P.A. faded away to be replaced by a far-louder rendition of “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince, which served as intro tape for American rockers Shinedown who kicked off their set with an energetic and well-received “Devour”. The band seem to be quite big in their homeland, and have been making inroads in the UK of late, having toured as main support to both Alter Bridge and Black Stone Cherry in recent years, appearing before the headliners and after Halestorm on both occasions.
Vocalist Brent Smith was decked out in shirt and tie under his black leather jacket, hair slicked back, while guitarist Zack Myers and bassist Eric Bass both sported waistcoat and jacket over their own shirt / tie combos as the pair leaped about the stage a little like city bankers in a Busted tribute act! Dreadlocked drummer Barry Kerch completed the lineup.
I wasn’t overly familiar with the band’s back catalogue prior to the show, but having heard them played on the radio on the drive up I wasn’t sure how well they would come across on stage, especially before a band like Maiden. Overall I was pretty impressed. Smith certainly has the showman moves worked out and there were plenty of shapes being thrown by Myers and Bass – the former pulling off some pretty good guitar soloing too.
Not so convinced about the whole “turn and greet your neighbour” shtick and it also seemed rather over the top to spend several minutes building the audience up in order for everybody to jump up and down in one of the songs. I suspect that the band had taped vocal help too, particularly as most tracks had a taped intro, but that aside I have certainly witnessed far worse support bands and at least they had decent songs to perform. For me the best numbers were the aforementioned “Devoured”, “Enemies”, “Second Chance” and “Cut The Cord”
1. Devour / 2. Fly From The Inside / 3. Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom) / 4. How Did You Love / 5. Unity / 6. Enemies / 7. Second Chance / 8. Cut The Cord / 9. Sound Of Madness
1, 3, 7 & 9 originally from “The Sound Of Madness” (2008) / 2 originally from “Leave A Whisper” (2003) / 4 & 8 originally from “Threat To Survival” (2015) / 5 & 6 originally from “Amaryllis” (2012)
Then followed about half an hour of watching Shinedown’s gear being broken down and removed from the stage and then as road crew put monitors in place, checked mics and guitars etc. and made sure that the headliners stage design stayed literally under wraps before their regular intro tape – UFO’s classic “Doctor Doctor” blasted out of the speakers – which thousands of enthusiastic Maiden fans singing along with every word.
A montage from (I think) the band’s “Legacy Of The Beast” video game played across the two large video screens either side of the stage before a spotlight picked out 58 year-old frontman Bruce Dickinson bent forward over a smoking pot at the back of the stage as he sang the opening lines to the latest album’s first number “If Eternity Should Fail” before the rest of the band joined in as the song burst fully into life and the whole stage exploded in numerous colours with flames shooting into the air. Spectacular stuff.
From there it was straight into a breathless “Speed Of Light” and the show just continued to impress. As well as Dickinson running around with the energy levels of a man a third of his age, the trio of guitarists – Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers (all 60 years old), bassist / band leader Steve Harris (61) and drumming powerhouse Nicko McBrain (64) belied their years throughout the relentless performance.
The setlist was structured to follow the pattern of two “Book Of Souls” numbers followed by two back catalogue tracks for the main part of the set, with another three classic songs held back for the inevitable and well-deserved encore.
Highlights very many. A ferocious rendition of pre-Dickinson era “Wrathchild”, the singalong 13-plus minute “The Red And The Black”, Dickinson monkeying around during “Death Or Glory” with bananas, Gers and Dickinson duelling with mascot Eddie as he lumbered around the stage during “Book Of Souls”, classic “Children Of The Damned”, the good-natured banter with a vicar in the audience, Gers throwing his stratocaster around with abandon, etc. etc.
No doubt there will be one or two disappointed that they didn’t play particular favourite songs, but this was always going to be a set built around a sizeable portion of the latest album and with such a great album to take songs from I can honestly say that I had no such disappointment.
The whole band looked to be really enjoying themselves, which is great to see for a band with such a long history, Harris singing along to every word and working the crowd, Murray smiling benignly throughout as he, Smith and Gers effortlessly pealed out super riffs, licks and solos, McBrain drumming up a storm behind his kit and, of course, multi- talented singer / pilot / fencer / author / Dickinson constantly on the move between costume changes.
Generally speaking I’d say that the audience was excellent, good-humoured and practically everyone I saw appeared to be having the time of their lives. There were, as is all too often the case, a few who threatened to spoil things for others, such as those trying to push their way through to the front of the crowd because their companion was too short to see (they should perhaps have got there earlier or chose a seated ticket!) or those doing likewise just because and threatening to fight anyone who complained about their behaviour (they should have got there earlier too…).
On a personal note events took a rather embarrassing turn during “The Number Of The Beast” as the heat from the densely packed crown and the pyrotechnics on stage began to affect me and having initially thought “blimey it’s getting a bit too warm now” I reached the realisation within about thirty seconds that if I didn’t get out of that space right then I was going to collapse! Fortunately I didn’t encounter any difficulties in reaching the edge of the crowd where the venue staff immediately gave me some water and helped me out into the corridor – as by that point I could barely speak or stand! Full marks to the staff there, who were absolutely brilliant – many thanks.
Sadly that meant that I only heard the final couple of tunes through the wall from the corridor, but despite that slight drawback I can honestly say that Maiden put on a superb show and I wouldn’t hesitate in going to see them again – hopefully on the next “best of” tour that they do. Not the cheapest show I’ll see this year by a long way, but well worth the money. A brilliant show from a top class band. Up the Irons…
1. If Eternity Should Fail / 2. Speed Of Light / 3. Wrathchild / 4. Children Of The Damned / 5. Death Or Glory / 6. The Red And The Black / 7. The Trooper / 8. Powerslave / 9. The Great Unknown / 10. Book Of Souls / 11. Fear Of The Dark / 12. Iron Maiden / 13. The Number Of The Beast / 14. Blood Brothers / 15. Wasted Years
1, 2, 5, 6, 9 & 10 originally from “The Book Of Souls” (2015) / 3 originally from “Killers” (1981) / 4 & 13 originally from “The Number Of The Beast” (1982) / 7 originally from “Piece Of Mind” (1983) / 8 originally from “Powerslave” (1984) / 11 originally from “Fear Of The Dark” (1992) / 12 originally from “Iron Maiden” (1980) / 14 originally from “Brave New World” (2000) / 15 originally from “Somewhere In Time” (1986)