Up the Irons!

Image via the estimable photographic talents of Mike Lawrence on Flickr,  - cheers Mike!

Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden, Newcastle Metro Radio Arena, July 23rd.

My first Maiden show was a corking experience from beginning to end.

Support band Airbourne were the definition of plucky, fighting a valiant uphill battle against a sound mix which wasn’t doing them any favours at all – the guitars were muddy and lost any definition somewhere between the stage and the arena’s Block 208 where I was seated. Singer Joel’s vocals and in-between song banter was so impossible to discern that a woman sitting to my right-hand side’s first words after Airbourne finished were “Did you understand anything that he said?”

They dropped a liberal smattering of tunes from “Running Wild” and “No Guts, No Glory” and made sections of the notoriously critical Maiden fan base move around, but the mix made all of their hard work (this is not a band who stand stock still behind their mics – the band ran a mini-marathon by my reckoning) for nought, sad to say.

They did their best, and may have won over a bunch of new fans, but I think that they’re a band who need to have a smaller room (oh, for an Airbourne secret gig at Sheffield’s Corporation club) and more immediate contact between band and audience to show themselves at their best.

A brief sojourn for the road crew to get Airbourne’s gear off stage, for people to grab Maiden merch and the obligatory plastic beaker of lager-esque beverages followed, and before I had time to ponder on why people come to live shows and then spend half their time on their mobiles (seriously, WTF?), UFO’s “Doctor Doctor” was playing on the PA and it was ON…

“The Final Frontier” staging won me over from the get-go – designed to look like the interior of a spaceship, the set reminded me of the loading bay from “Serenity”, Joss Whedon’s sf-western awesomefest. This digression, whilst entirely valid, soon was swept aside by the sonic and visual bombast of the opening film which accompanied the lengthy musical overture at the beginning of “Satellite 15” – accompanied by the audience faithful going over more bug-eyed as the band tore into the main portion of the tune.

I’ve read some online reviews which felt that Maiden were a bit off-sorts for the first two songs of the show, but I can’t say that I really noticed – it was a slick and utterly thrilling performance from all band members, although I did wonder how the blinking flip Janick Gers kept up in most songs given his typical stage presence is somewhere ‘twixt genial metal Morris Man and Yoga instructor – there was some serious, ‘Crouching Mantis’ position throwing whenever he flung his left leg up on his side of the stage rig.

The change in sound was really noticeable throughout Maiden’s portion of the show – utterly crisp, clearly differentiated guitars whirling, crashing and zipping around the stage, Nicko’s drums regularly kicking you in the solar plexus in a thoroughly entertaining but slightly hooligan-like fashion and Steve’s charging bass underpinning each song in an unfussy, controlled manner.

I’m sure that there are some people who would come to a show like this one and fling about accusations of cold professionalism and clinical performances which are the antithesis of rock n’ roll – a valid point if you’re comparing the scrappy, straight-ahead tunes of Airbourne to Maiden’s recent, progressive rock-style rebirth, but not one which I care to debate for long.

Iron Maiden are a precise, glorious live experience, who make up in attack, scale and emotional connection what they might lack in off-the-cuff improvisation and seat-of-the-pants, ‘What will they do next’ free-form stage craft. It’s part-gig, part-theatrical stage show, part-thrill ride and never less than completely compelling stuff.

The set-list favoured, inevitably, the current “Final Frontier” album but also had enough classics and recent singles to allow the band to play the songs nearest and dearest to them, whilst still allowing fans who wanted to sing, scream and go nuts in the pit to do just those things.

My initial reason for seeing the show was the realisation that I had enjoyed their music from my teenage years and had never managed to see them live before. Who knows how much longer they will want to continue – on the basis of last night’s show, they have more than a few years of performing at this level left in them – but I recommend that you take the opportunity to see this most stately, self-assured and accomplished rock band in your city if you get the chance. A great show, a great night, a great band.

Also, Eddie was awesome!

The great photo of Bruce Dickinson at the top of the post is kindly reproduced courtesy of Mike Lawrence on Flickr – you can see more of his excellent Iron Maiden live pictures here and a host of great live music and other subjects here.

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