Cam and I last saw Iron Maiden live in Sydney in 1985. (They also toured in 1992 but we missed that one.) We were in our early 20s, unmarried, no kids, just getting started in life. And it was one of the top 3 shows I’ve ever been to (the other two were Queen and Jethro Tull) – just amazing.
So it was with plenty of anticipation, as well as a bit of nostalgia, that we headed out to the concert. We both think it’s a bit naff to wear a band’s t-shirt to their own show (not an opinion apparently shared by about 80% of the audience), so Cam had a black t-shirt with the Rosetta Stone on the front and I had my (CPU) plain black t-shirt. One of the sports of the evening was spotting what bands’ shirts we saw at the show, and it was a fair sort of rendering of the more mainstream rock and metal acts around… not too much of the more obscure stuff though.
The Brisbane Entertainment Centre is way out in the sticks, north of the city, so it took a while to drive out there, then a few minutes to park, but it wasn’t too onerous. From the carpark we wandered along a path through tree-filled, Everglades-like swamps to the actual venue, which was an interesting introduction.
Inside the place is a big cavernous hall, like most big entertainment centres. There were a few hundred people milling around the front section of the floor, more in the back section and plenty in the seats, though it also looked as though a lot of people had decided to skip the support bands and just turn up for Maiden.
I’d bought our seated tickets online, and got them as close to the stage as possible, and I thought we had fantastic seats, from looking at the floor map of the entertainment centre. We would have, too, except that (as you can see from the photos I posted earlier) Maiden uses an 8 foot high runway all around the sides and back of the stage for Bruce to run around on – and we were right down behind that. We could barely see the tops of the heads of the support band. D’oh!
Fortunately the venue realised this and a representative came and talked to us and the people sitting near us. They apologised for the visibility and allowed us to move to some unsold seats higher up the rake of the room. We were even closer to the front of the venue, which meant even more side-on to the stage, but we could see everything (except Nicko, the drummer, who sits with his enormous drum kit in a well in the runway and wouldn’t be very visible to anyone). And we were still close enough to see every facial expression and gesture, which wouldn’t have been the case from seats in front of the stage but far away. The guy also gave us a voucher for a free t-shirt, stubby holder and poster for our trouble. At 50 bucks for t-shirts and 20 for stubby holders that’s about 85 bucks value back toward our $150 tickets, so not too shabby an outcome (though I certainly wouldn’t have been paying those prices for the merch on my own).
The first support was Lauren Harris and band. Lauren is the 23 year old daughter of Iron Maiden’s bass player and founder Steve Harris, and there was a certain amount of cute factor in the ‘bring your daughter to work day’ angle. She was not too difficult to look at, either, in sprayed-on black vinyl pants, but that’s about where the positives end. The set was some pretty straightforward hard rock, and she sings in tune and competently. But the songs were pretty uninpsired, the guitarist seemed to have just one solo that he used on every song, and her stagecraft was odd… she would start a gesture but then just kind of abandon it and do something else, without tying it together or connecting it to the song. It’s weird – Maiden would have to be one of the most skilled performing bands out there, in terms of putting on an entertaining and cohesive live show, and you’d think she might have learned something from them. Though I guess in fairness they’ve been doing it since before she was born… The not-hard-to-look-at factor got her a decent reception from the audience, but honestly it was more something to be waited through than really enjoyed.
Next support was Aussie metalcore band ‘Behind Crimson Eyes’. Apparently Maiden hand-picked them as the support, and we could see why in terms of their competence and stage presence, but it seemed an odd choice since metalcore/post-hardcore is somewhere at the other end of the genre chart from Maiden’s prog-tinged heavy metal. They certainly got enough boos, and even rubbish tossed onto the stage, from narrow-minded Maiden fans, but Cam and I actually really enjoyed their set, even if it’s not stuff we’d usually choose to listen to. They played with power and dynamics, and a sense of melody that’s often lacking in that genre. Plenty of power and aggression, a variety of vocal styles from two vocalists, some fantastic and varied guitar playing and drumming and a cover of Motorhead’s iconic ‘Ace of Spades’… the boys done good. They also handled the abuse goodnaturedly, and kinda counted down their own songs toward the advent of Maiden… nice work, and of course this tour was a huge opportunity for them, at least among the more open-minded fans.
But really, we were all here for only one reason. A bit of waiting time as the big stage was set up (our odd position at the side gave us a perfect view of the backstage area, so we got to see Steve Harris huddling with the stage manager and sorting out details for the show, and Yanick Gers warming up with some stretches and chatting comfortably with various roadies). Then the lights go down, the aero engine sounds start up, and Sir Winston Churchill sonorously enumerates the places where we’re going to fight them. A burst of sound, a burst of pyros and light, and it’s all on! Rrrooooaaarrrrrrr!!!!
I’ve watched lots of interview footage with Bruce Dickinson (vocalist and frontman) over the years, and a consistent theme has been ‘it’s all about the audience’. He’s very conscious that the audience is there to have a good time, and that it’s his responsibility to put on the best show he possibly can for them. Steve Harris (bass player, founder and runner-of-the-band) has a similar aesthetic, just does it more quietly in the background, and that attention to detail shows in the sets and backdrops and showmanship. But the band also just look like they’re having the time of their life. They grin and gurn and run around and goof around – but the music comes first.
On the last tour (which didn’t make it to Australia), supporting their latest album ‘A Matter of Life And Death’, the band played that album in its entirety, leaving little room in the show for the classics. This show was pretty much a reaction to that – the newest song played was ‘Fear of the Dark’, from the 1992 album of the same name, but apart from that everything was from their heyday in the 80s. I posted the set list in the earlier post – all the classics, although of course with as many albums as these guys have done there were always going to be some favourites that would miss out. I’d love to have heard ‘Alexander The Great’ from ‘Somewhere in Time’, but it wasn’t to be. Hearing the 14 minute ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ live was amazing, though. I think ‘Revelations’ is still my favourite Maiden song, and may even be my favourite song ever.
So Bruce runs around like a maniac, has several costume changes, is incredibly entertaining and leaps around off the foldback speakers in a way that completely ignores the fact that he turns 50 later this year. Steve Harris plays to the crowd, gallops his finger-picked bass lines at a million miles an hour, sings every word at the top of his voice even though he doesn’t have a mic because he can’t sing in tune, and just has the time of his life. We can’t see Nicko McBrain, the big Irish drummer (voted one of the top 10 ugliest men in metal) directly, but a big screen above us and a great camera and editing crew keep us right in the action – and Nicko is grinning his head off for most of the night.
The band started out with two guitarists, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Adrian left the band and was replaced by Yanick Gers about 20 years ago. There’s a long saga, that Cam can tell you, about how Bruce also left the band, and so did Nicko, and they played together on some of Bruce’s solo albums, and … anyway, the thing is, all three of them ended up back in the band, but by that time Yanick had been in the band for over 10 years and they weren’t going to dump him for the returning Adrian. So Maiden ended up with three lead guitarists. It actually works really well, and sounds great, with various guitarists taking solos, lots of harmony guitar work and a huge sound. Yanick in some ways is still considered the ‘new guy’ in the band, and some fans resent his very flamboyant stage antics – he plays the guitar sometimes by whipping the strings with the guitar lead, swings the guitar around his neck and jumps around more than the other two guitarists. But he’s an excellent player and a big part of the band – and the whole band works well.
It was a huge show, and a hugely enjoyable one. And given that the shows in every Australian capital city sold out, and extra shows had to be added in Sydney and Melbourne, which also sold out, I think the oft-repeated promise that it won’t be another 16 years before they make it back down under is fairly solid. I’ll definitely see them again if I ever get the chance – and if you get the chance, you should.