Monday, March 23, 2009


(I managed to string together four consecutive weekends of awesome music experiences. This one took place in Auckland on February 20th.)

Unlike David Byrne, I have seen Iron Maiden before. And, sadly, it was a bit of a disappointment. I loved Iron Maiden as a teenager; would always mow the lawn to POWERSLAVE or SOMEWHERE IN TIME, two of my most cherished tapes from the Columbia House music club. And I'd seen LIVE AFTER DEATH, and knew about Iron Maiden's larger-than-life stage antics. So when they arrived in Detroit on the NO PRAYER FOR THE DYING tour and announced they were going to go "back to basics", and proceeded to play their set with a minimum of stage fare, I felt like I'd missed out. Sure, they were fine musically (well, except for the bit where Bruce Dickinson lost his voice on "Run To The Hills"), but what I wanted was to have my mind blown.

I haven't thought a lot about Iron Maiden since then. Like many musical loves from my teenage years, they were indiscriminately tossed aside when I discovered punk rock and college radio. But I always would smile when I heard them in passing, and would tend to discover that a disproportionate number of my friends also grew up on Iron Maiden, and never lost respect for them. I mean, yeah, they're a heavy metal band, but they write 13-minute songs based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems! And their singer is not only a fencing champion, but a professional pilot, flying the Iron Maiden jet and even occasionally rescuing people when extra planes are needed and he's not on stage!

And then there's the fact that they're IRON MAIDEN. This cannot be understated, and it's more than just a tautology. It doesn't mean anything to be, say, Metallica, not in the same way, because Metallica twenty-five years ago was a very different enterprise, one that would have been embarrassed by what they've turned into. What makes Maiden different - and more awesome, in my scientific opinion - is that Iron Maiden has never strayed from what they are. They don't say, okay, now it's time for a ballad, or let's add keyboards, or play with a symphony orchestra. They're geeks who love fantasy, war stories, sci-fi, and horror, and mine it relentlessly for material, then set to music played with a deep ear for musical theory that they render almost invisible to anyone who's not into theory. And they've maintained a graphical identity, not just with their logo, but with their mascot Eddie, that's incredibly popular. I've never been to a show, ever, where so many of the people were wearing shirts by the headlining band. Here, it was 80%, easily.

Prefatory ramble done and dusted, how was the show? Freaking awesome. Earlier showers in the day had left me fearful, but they parted and we got to our standing area location ten minutes before the band started; perfect timing. (Some rain happened later; mostly, it evaporated before it landed on us, the air around us was so steamy.) A video intro, and then into "Aces High", the first track off of POWERSLAVE. A huge stage with multiple levels, fireworks, pyrotechnics, various scrims with images off their various records (and, for the 13-minute rendition of "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", a ship's deck), myriad and sundry wardrobe changes for Bruce Dickinson (a British army coat for "The Trooper", some crazy Egyptian mask for "Powerslave", and so on), and even a 12-foot puppet Eddie (SOMEWHERE IN TIME-era) for the climax.

And the song selection! I knew going in that this was largely pulling from my favorite era of Maiden, but I wasn't fully expecting that, given that I hadn't heard a new Maiden album since 1990, there would only be one song that I hadn't heard before ("Fear of the Dark", which I think hit in 1992 or something; an epic piece that instantly earned its place on the crowded setlist). "Two Minutes To Midnight"; "Wasted Years"; "Number of the Beast"; and, of course, "Run To The Hills". (Which a smiling Bruce Dickinson introduced by saying "If you don't know this one, you're in the wrong place.)

It was an expensive show and a big stress getting back to Auckland for the show (I flew back to Dunedin the day after the David Byrne show for work), and every moment of stress and frustration was wiped clean. My inner 13-year hasn't been so happy in years.

No comments: