Gavin Strickmann is on a works trip to the US...
What sort of jammy bugger am I? My first ever trip away on business, after ten years with the same firm, just happens to coincide with the first night of Iron Maiden’s long-awaited new World Tour, showcasing their Book of Souls album. Now, should I go for dinner with my US counterpart and his lovely wife to talk shop, or…
Well you know what I did. Deciding to brave the touts (or scalpers as they call them here) and get myself amongst it, I actually found a kindly Yank outside the venue – a cavernous convention centre-type thing – who only wanted face value for his spare ticket! Needless to say I bought the man a beer for his trouble, and then, hearing Bruce Dickinson intoning the opening, super-dramatic intro to If Eternity Should Fail, I legged it up the stairs to my seat.
First impressions: Bruce is in fine voice, thankfully, but the biggest surprise is seeing Janick Gers toting a black Les Paul and not his trusty strat! If Eternity Should Fail warms the crowd up nicely, not that they needed it, but Speed of Light really kicks the place into overdrive, a position from which we don’t climb down as an audience till the end of the night. I wasn’t a big fan of this track on the album, but live it really makes sense with all three guitarists weaving in and out of their solos with such practiced ease you’d have thought we were on the last night of the tour as opposed to the first.
Children of the Damned is the first oldie of the night, and the crowd go to another level of mental when Bruce introduces it. His voice creaks a bit here and there, but no one cares, and Adrian Smith saves the day with a frankly awesome guitar solo; Next up we go back to The Book of Souls with Tears of a Clown which again fares much better live than on record, coming across not only ten times heavier but also again fitting Bruce better vocally. Smith and Dave Murray both pull out all the stops again with fine solos.
The impressive, ever changing stage set is bathed in red and black now, which must mean we’re about to hear a version of, you guessed it, The Red and the Black. It’s the first big set piece song of the night, and the crowd throw themselves into the ‘who-oh-ohs’ with fierce abandon, if not professional precision. Bruce leads from the front, conducting us all like some sort of hellacious choir, Steve Harris at his shoulder mouthing all the words as his fingers fly across the fretboard. Smith steals the show again with some fantastic soloing before Bruce returns to take the song home. If you were worried about how some of the more ‘progressive’ material was going to fare live on this tour, you needn’t have. The end section of TRatB is a juggernaut of headbanging heavy metal power and glory. You’ll love it!
But for all that, most people in this twenty thousand arena, which is all but sold out, aren’t here for The Red and the Black. After Steve Harris plays his little bit of Spanish bass to end the song, the stage lights black out and there is a moment of silence… and then The Trooper backdrop is seen as the spots flash over the stage, and we go ballistic again. Played at breakneck speed and with yet another massive solo from Smith, this is the best I’ve seen the band play this track in a long long time. Nicko McBrain is in fine form at the back, and he powers this track along like a man a third of his age.
The hits just keep on coming as the band launches headlong into Powerslave, Dickinson sounding majestic on a song the band haven’t often played live recently. Its little glints of the past like this that really make the price of admission worthwhile. This is classic metal indeed, and for this reviewer the night peaks here.
Indeed it peaks so much that I find myself in need of liquid refreshment, so new track Death or Glory is missed in the beer queue, but I’m safely back in time for Book of Souls; It’s another mid-paced quasi-epic, of course, and as title track of the new album I guess the band couldn’t avoid playing it – they certainly seemed to be enjoying playing the new material – but I can’t help thinking another oldie thrown in here might have been received happily by the crowd.
Not that anybody apart from me seems to care, as they lap up everything that’s fed to them; It has to be said that Bruce in particular shines on these new songs, singing with levels of conviction and control that sometimes leave him on the older material. During the epic solo section a rather aggrieved-looking Eddie makes his first appearance of the night, dressed in full Mayan garb, flipping the middle finger to the crowd – we go mad and cheer appreciatively when he looks at our section of the crowd and flips us the bird – and playing some amusing air guitar into the bargain.
The back catalogue isn’t forgotten, though, as the band end the main part of the set with a thunderous run through of the always-epic Hallowed Be Thy Name, adding a crowd-pleasing Fear of the Dark before closing, of course, with Iron Maiden; Except something seems to have gone wrong with the choreography (a missing onstage Eddie?) leading Dickinson to make a few pointed remarks backstagewards; it’s a definite case of first-night glitches ahoy but finally the huge, inflated Eddie appears behind McBrain’s riser and all is forgotten. Dickinson bids us farewell – ‘we’ll see you again – I promise!’ and we get a couple of minutes to calm down again…
However that rest is only very brief; the first encore is a slashing, invigorating reading of The Number of the Beast, complete with flashbombs, flames, and an inflatable Baphomet to remind us of the scary Satanic nature of the song, and I’m afraid to say this old headbanger really starts to flag at this point, making penultimate track, the slow-building Blood Brothers something of a Godsend. The triumphant mid section of the song is another of the night’s highlights, with Gers playing the final, climactic guitar lead like his life depended on it.
Final encore Wasted Years sends us all out into the night still singing at the tops of our voices, safe in the knowledge that there’s a fair bit of life in Iron Maiden yet – and if they’re this good on the tour’s first night, then imagine what they’ll be like by the time they hit your town! SCREAM FOR ME FLORIDA!!