NEW YORK — Before Iron Maiden played the only new
song of their 90-minute set on Wednesday night (July 30) at Madison
Square Garden, frontman Bruce Dickinson offered a little sociology
Dickinson spoke of how 10 years of vapid trends and media manipulation
have resulted in legions of manufactured, uninspiring hard rock bands
with two good songs per album and careers that last no longer than two
records. Then Maiden blasted into "Wildest Dreams" — a galloping
track from their upcoming disc, Dance of Death — and it was
as if the past decade never happened.
"Out on my way, out on the road again," wailed Dickinson before
guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers traded deft,
galvanic solos while bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain
kept the rhythms pounding.
Sadly, time only really stands still in intensely boring classroom
lectures — or, as Groucho Marx once said, "Time wounds all heels."
The members of Iron Maiden are in their mid-to-late 40s now. Their
faces are lined with wrinkles, their hair is growing grayer by the day,
they all have families and they're not as freewheeling or impulsive as
they once were. But they still have the energy, enthusiasm, agility and
musical chops to win over an arena crowd.
One of the keys to Maiden's longevity is devotion. Through thick and
thin, the band has never strayed from its epic metal course, and its
fans have rewarded it with undying loyalty. That's why Maiden are still
able to sell out Madison Square Garden and other large venues without
the aid of radio or video exposure.
Fans at the Garden had plenty to be excited about. Iron Maiden were
loud, dramatic, and looked so metal. Dickinson ran a marathon from side
to side and across a platform at the back of the stage, vaulted
monitors like an Olympic long jumper, threw his fists in the air as if
slaying giant dragonflies and waved a giant Union Jack flag. Yet he
never got too winded to sing with accuracy, passion and authority.
While the frontman led the crusade, the band's guitarists put on
kinetic displays of six-string precision, and each sported trademark
moves that helped establish their identity. When he wasn't navigating
the stage, Smith stood stoic, knees bent, legs wide apart, and threw
his head back when he ripped through speedy, melodic leads. Murray was
less mobile, often looking down at his guitar as he played, though he
frequently arched his back at the string-bending apex of his screaming
solos. Gers, with his flowing blond hair, was the band's most acrobatic
and hyperactive axeman. As he played he jogged in place, whipped his
instrument in circles around his body, windmilled, hoisted his guitar
against his outer thigh and kicked his monitor with his heel.
Such gestures would seem absurd from Nickelback, but Maiden fans expect
nothing less than overblown showmanship. They screamed with joy when a
giant metal robot version of the band's mascot, Eddie, ascended during
the set closer, "Iron Maiden." As the creature's head opened on a
hinge, a car-sized brain descended from the rafters and landed in the
gleaming skull, causing the torso to wiggle and the metal jaws to make
The set list chronicled Iron Maiden's career and offered a healthy dose
of crowd-pleasers, but there were also numerous surprises. After
opening with "The Number of the Beast" and "The Trooper," Maiden plowed
into "Die With Your Boots On" and "Revelations" from 1983's Piece of
Mind, though they didn't play the better known "Flight of Icarus"
or "Where Eagles Dare" from the same album. And while they performed
the nine-minute-long "The Clansman" from Virtual XI, an album
recorded in 1998 when Dickinson was out of the band, they avoided their
signature epic "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Similarly, they played
the somewhat obscure cut "The Clairvoyant" from Seventh Son of a
Seventh Son and the title track of Fear of the Dark, but
didn't perform "Aces High" or "Wrathchild."
Such quibbles are minor. Compared to other bands from their era and
most contemporary hard rock outfits, Iron Maiden are theatrical,
honest, even joyous. Staind and Metallica may sneer while they play,
but guitarists Smith and Murray often exchange wide grins. Bassist
Harris is such a fan, he sings along wide-mouthed even though he's
nowhere near a microphone. Refreshingly, Maiden aren't too
self-important to be self-deprecating. While other bands may avoid
talking about scuffles with the law, Dickinson took two jabs at drummer
McBrain, who was arrested last week for striking a parking attendant
with his car (see "Iron Maiden Drummer Arrested After Allegedly Driving Into Lot Attendant"). "Don't get into a moving vehicle with this man," he said
when introducing McBrain mid-set. Before Maiden encored with "2 Minutes
to Midnight" and "Run to the Hills," Dickinson exclaimed, "Fresh out of
San Quentin, madman Nicko McBrain on the drums."
With Maiden, stage drama heightens a euphoric experience. For show
opener Dio, theatricality seems more than a tad bit absurd. Frontman
Ronnie James Dio, who hasn't exactly aged well and kinda resembles the
Cryptkeeper, continually saluted the crowd with the heavy metal "devil
horns" sign and wiggled the splayed fingers to the beat like a
Hell-bound orchestra conductor.
Guitarist Craig Goldy was similarly comical when he repeatedly yanked
his instrument to the side to display Rockettes-style high kicks, and
ran his fingers mystically up and down his guitar neck between
fuzzbomb riffs. Simon Wright's insistence on playing along with a
tape of the climax of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" during his overly
long drum solo was equally hard to take seriously.
Yet, those who closed their eyes or otherwise overlooked
the visual display were treated to a thundering showcase of mystical,
anthemic metal. Dio's voice is still a fine-tuned machine that is
equally capable of delivering hushed, eerie passages and belting out
daunting vibrato crescendos, and the band's musicianship was tight and
gripping. The only recent song Dio played was "Killing the Dragon"; the
rest of the set included '80s classics such as "The Last in Line,"
"Stand Up and Shout," "Rainbow in the Dark," "Holy Diver" and "Heaven
and Hell," a song from Dio's two-album tenure with Black Sabbath.
Biker metal stalwarts Motörhead opened the show with 30 minutes of
ground-shaking, teeth-busting clamor. Unlike Dio and Maiden, it doesn't
matter how old frontman Lemmy Kilmister gets, because he has no
aspirations to be cool or theatrical. Paradoxically, he's one of the
coolest, most watchable figures in rock.
As he ravaged his bass, Lemmy craned his neck to sing into his
downward-tilted mike. When he wasn't roaring in a shattered-larynx
voice, he played with one knee bent while ponytailed guitarist Phil
Campbell sawed hardcore-paced blues-metal riffs and drummer Mikkey Dee
battered away on a double-bass kit so emphatically, it sounded like
Motörhead flawlessly ripped through "Motorhead," "Sacrifice" and
"Killed by Death," but the showstopper was the timeless "Ace of
Spades," which inspired an enthused sing-along from the crowd. Lemmy
introduced the cut by saying, "If you know the words you can sing
along, but I won't be able to hear you." Ever hear of earplugs, Lemmy?
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.