Ariana Grande had been due to play the O2 on the previous two evenings and given the horrific events at her Manchester Arena show earlier in the week, it was no surprise that the atmosphere outside the venue was subdued. And yet there was good humoured banter with the highly visible police presence and no one was moaning about the queues for bag searches or the extra security.
Throughout the night, both the bands and the crowd affirmed an important narrative about not living in fear and not giving in. Without wanting to thump the tub too much, this is the sort of spirit that matters.
It seemed most punters had taken heed of the need to arrive early too, because Shinedown hit the stage at 7.30pm prompt and smashed out their anthemic, sweeping metal to a pretty full house.
The Floridian quartet are a multi-million selling outfit and playing support on this tour must feel weird. Indeed for too long in the 40 minute set, vocalist Brent Smith acted like a showboating headliner. The songs were warming up the audience nicely and there was no need for his laborious, tedious, over-indulgent audience participation. The crowd are grown-ups, actually, and they didn’t need to be cajoled to stand, jump and wave in some overlong, cringe-worthy exercise in forced fun. Especially only two tracks in to the show.
Shinedown’s dense sound on record suffered a little in the O2’s vast acres and at times the band sounded a fraction lightweight, which emphasised the pop quality of some of the arrangements. ‘Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom)’ could have been a KLF/White Zombie mash up, if such a thing were ever possible.
The band have an ear for infectious vocal and guitar hooks, and both ‘Unity’ and ‘Enemies’ hit the aural sweet spot. Visually, the band were full of energy and ripped around the stage. Smith redeemed himself somewhat with some words in support of Maiden and to mark the Manchester bombing.
‘Sound of Madness’ brought the set to a powerful (if a bit choreographed) end and overall Shinedown delivered a proper rabble rousing and entertaining pre-curser to the main event. If only Brent Smith could learn a bit of subtlety..!
Not that Iron Maiden could ever be accused of such a thing. As UFO’s ‘Doctor Doctor’ faded from the PA, the band were introduced via Eddie in a Raiders of the Lost Arc-style big-screen animation onto a stage set inspired by either a Mayan Dynasty ruin or the Temple Run video game. Possibly both.
The opener was the first track from the latest album. ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ felt a bit too ploddy and overwrought for this star billing in the set. Maybe the woolly sound (only briefly, to be fair) didn’t help. Contrast that with ‘Speed of Light’ next up, which ripped along on a booming riff and had Bruce Dickinson hollering his first ‘scream for me, London’ of the night. One of many.
The dynamic front man arguably may not have put in his best ever shift on the ‘Book of Souls’ platter, but tonight he absolutely smashed up the vocals, giving a vibrant lift to some of the new material like ‘Speed…’ and later on, the excellent ‘Death or Glory’.
Dickinson’s charisma and energy around the stage could never be in question: a mixture of irrepressible teenager, comedy action hero and chief cheerleader. One minute he’s irritating Adrian Smith during a histrionic solo with a ruffle of his hair, the next he’s fighting the lumbering animatronic 13-foot Eddie and ripping out his fake heart, which then gets lobbed into the crowd. And nearly as many costume changes as Rob Halford. Though not quite…
‘Wrathchild’ was a moment of unbridled joy, with Steve Harris’ rumbling bass deliciously cutting through everything else.
‘Children Of The Damned’ followed a faintly queasy introduction by Dickinson, describing how people used to copulate during the track’s quieter sections back in the 1980’s; and that many of the younger generation in the audience tonight might therefore actually be real children of the damned. Boom boom. A tortured story unworthy of such a powerful track. Both went down a storm.
The best of the new material was probably ‘The Red And The Black’ with Air Raid Siren getting his tongue round some complex lyrics, delivered over the triply-harmonized guitar riff. The instrumental sections gave Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers ample space and time to show off their wares. Top notch playing.
A word too for Nicko McBrain who maintained a relentless pace here, with furious double bass drum weaves and more time changes than Southern Rail in an overtime ban. He’s rising 64 now. Maximum respect.
Maiden have so many classics that it would be hard to pick out just one favourite. So having two of their very best – ‘The Trooper’ and ‘Powerslave’ – delivered in a back-to-back mid-set meltdown was a stroke of scheduling genius.
The opening lines to ‘The Trooper’ were chorused by the crowd en-masse with everyone on their feet (spontaneously – please take note Mr Brent Smith), and then into note perfect oh-oh-oh-ing articulation of the highest order.
‘Powerslave’ is a mini-epic and it still casts a mystical hue after all these years with swirling guitars and Egyptian lyrical imagery. Brilliant.
‘The Great Unknown’ and ‘The Book of Souls’ brought the material up to date but the next peak was provided by ‘Fear of the Dark’. This saw Janick Gers at his finest.
All gig he had been charging round the stage in his Maiden T-shirt and white trainers looking like a band fan from the ‘90’s. When Eddie appeared on stage, Gers ran through his legs. Berthed stage right he often chucked his Stratocaster in the air and swung it over his shoulder. There was even a soft shoe shuffle down the front of the stage during ‘The Red and the Black’. On this track, the Tees-sider let the music do the talking with a stunning guitar solo and some searing licks.
‘Iron Maiden’, a real crowd pleaser, closed out the main set, Harris again blazing the trail with his running basslines.
There was not long to wait before demonic green strobes and the Burton-esque delivery of “Woe to you, oh Earth and Sea” signalled the arrival of ‘The Number of the Beast’. Next up, ‘Blood Brothers’ sat a bit awkwardly with the main body of the set, with its ever-so-soft-rock chorus and structure. Though tonight, Dickinson presaged it with some pertinent comments about solidarity, respect and living in the moment.
‘Wasted Years’ is an often under appreciated anthem, yet its fat, singalong chorus and clean riffs provided a positive, high octane climax to the gig. There was much taking of both selfies and plaudits before the band left the stage. Nicko was last to go and received a special round of applause when he tripped over a discarded guitar. The eyes are clearly on the wane, even if the drumming is far from it.
Rain or shine, peace or war, Maiden always seem to rise above the prevailing circumstances (including their own dodgy material on some occasions) and deliver drama, escapism and class entertainment out of the very top drawer. National treasures, the lot of ‘em.
Review by Dave Atkinson
Photos by Andy Nathan
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Power Plays w/c 16 September (Mon-Fri)
BLOCK BUSTER Losing Gravity (Frontiers)
WATCH ME BREATHE Don’t Think I Haven’t Thought About It (The Label Group/INGrooves)
FIRES OF FREYA Take A Bow (indie)
BLACK STAR RIDERS Underneath The Afterglow (Nuclear Blast)
STOMPIN’ HEAT Shiny Curly Red Hair (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 16 September (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 THE DEFIANTS Zokusho (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 CORELEONI II (AFM Records)
14:00-16:00 TONY McLOUGHLIN True Native (Fuego)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
BAD COMPANY Company Of Strangers (1995)
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