Photo: Andy Nathan
It would not be an exaggeration to describe Iron Maiden as the people’s band. They inspire remarkable loyalty among their vast army of fans – I don’t think I have never seen a higher percentage of gig goers in that band’s t-shirts with others hardly represented – yet also take a stand on those fans’ behalf against some of the less savoury aspects of the business with the now familiar ticketless entry system ensuring tickets went to genuine fans rather than in the hands of scalpers.
Offering fans a value for money spectacle has likewise always been a big part of their live show, as has the fact they alternate tours to promote a new album, with themed ones which recreate a particular stage show of the past or focus on a certain period of their career.
If last year’s tour was a triumphant celebration of Bruce Dickinson’s recovery from cancer and the ambitious ‘Book of Souls’ double album, then this one, announced in fairly short order, did what it said on the tin, being described as ‘The Legacy of the Beast’, tied in with an official game which I must admit is an unfamiliar world to me.
As Bruce joked early on, with the tour three months old it could no longer be a surprise in this social media age, but the setlist was a Maiden fan’s dream, bringing back some established favourites and others not played for many years, yet at the same time throwing in a few surprises from nearly all phases of their career. Carlsberg don’t do setlists, but if they did…
From the moment the house lights dimmed and the traditional ‘Doctor Doctor’ intro played, the sense of anticipation was greater than I can remember at any of the many Maiden shows I’ve attended over the years.
Knowing what was to come did not lessen the thrill of a near life sized Spitfire swinging from the stage as video footage of Churchill’s speech led into ‘Aces High’. As usual there was plenty of stage movement from the band but all eyes were on Bruce, in fighter pilot’s goggles, charging around the stage with a ridiculous energy for a man who has just joined all his bandmates in hitting 60.
Maiden stage sets have always been elaborately constructed but on this tour they really pulled out all the stops with different imagery for nearly every song beginning with a frozen Alpine backdrop for the first of the unlikely blasts of the past in ‘Where Eagles Dare’ before a more familiar ‘Two Minutes To Midnight’ had the whole of the crowd punching the air.
After Bruce’s only chatter of the night, he name checked William Wallace before ‘The Clansman’. It was potentially a controversial move to play a song from the relatively unloved Blaze Bayley era but not only did Bruce take the song to the next level but with the ‘freedom’ chant sparking a bout of jumping at the front it was a perfect live romp.
It was also the first opportunity for Janick Gers to be given a rare solo in between his stage wanderings and high kicking jinks, breaking with the normal pattern of Dave Murray taking the first half of a solo before Adrian Smith took over, though in fairness he took more solos as the set wore on than I recalled from previous tours.
Even ‘The Trooper’ got a makeover – not musically as the song can hardly be improved upon – but in terms of the show with Eddie playing the eponymous red jacketed soldier doing battle with Bruce – this was quite a contrast from less than two weeks ago when I’d seen Myles Kennedy deliver a radically different slowed down, acoustic version.
One of my gripes about Maiden shows in the past has been a rather muddy sound but on this occasion it seemed noticeably sharper and it was easier to pick out the different instruments, even in this cavernous venue. It is also noticeable that with the show very choreographed, songs are generally delivered in a manner very faithful to the studio equivalents with no rearrangements or superfluous jamming.
Photo: Andy Nathan
The stage set was then transformed into a cathedral for a suite of songs that in way or another mused on spirituality and religion beginning with one of my all-time Maiden favourites in ‘Revelations’, the quiet and fast passages and harmony guitar solos demonstrating the influence Wishbone Ash had on the young Steve Harris, and a rare dip into this millenium’s Maiden catalogue in ‘For The Greater Good of God’.
The showmanship was almost of Alice Cooper proportions and Bruce seemed to be having the most fun raiding the dressing up box since Mr Benn. ‘Sign Of The Cross’ saw him donning a clergyman’s dark cloak and prowling in front of an altar, and the lengthy epic was another Blaze-era song he made his own, though in comparison with the rest of the set I found the guitar interplay relatively dull.
It was noticeable the set focused on the lengthy, Harris-penned epics rather than the shorter songs often used for singles, though ‘The Wicker Man’ broke the mould and again worked a dream live with the crowd chanting ‘your time will come’.
The first live performance in over 30 years of ‘The Flight of Icarus’ with a silver backdrop of the winged legend brought back so many memories of my teenage years when songs like that were my gateway into rock and metal.
If those opening ten songs were a treat for us long-time fans, the remainder of the set focused on what we might conventionally think of as Maiden’s greatest hits. ‘Fear Of The Dark’ has become the one they dare not drop with its mass participation, Bruce stalking the stage like a Victorian villain complete with gas lamp, and ‘Number Of The Beast’, accompanied by flames on stage is surely their signature song, 20,000 hands punching the air before traditional set closer ‘Iron Maiden’ to the backdrop of an extremely menacing beast flashing its red demon eyes.
Proving that the setlist covered all periods, ‘The Evil That Men Do’ kicked off the encores followed by ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’, Bruce again taking theatrics into Cooper-esque territory behind bars as a noose swung around him before conducting his usual whipping up of the audience in the second part of this quintessential Maiden epic before another classic in ‘Run To The Hills’ was somewhat lightweight in comparison but a perfect closer with the crowd by now in full Friday night party mode.
It may have been billed as ‘Legacy of the Beast’, but as Bruce said from the stage it was not a farewell by any means. Nevertheless the sheer scale of this show, allied to a career defining setlist, meant that Maiden surpassed their own high standards. To borrow another phrase from the war hero who kicked the set off, it was quite possibly their finest hour.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Dave Craig (except where stated)
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