Last night was the moment that I’ve been waiting for ever since I took this gig writing for Examiner. When the opportunity to review live music was presented to me, the ultimate goal was to someday be able to review my favorite band on this planet; Iron Maiden. When they last toured the States in 2012-2013, I was brand new to this and didn’t have the needed cred to haul in a show like Maiden. For four years, I’ve been at it and have had the distinct pleasure to cover some of the artists that define my taste in music. I’ve interviewed the one and only Ted Nugent. I’ve been blessed to do many other interviews, album reviews, and live show reviews for some of the largest acts in the world. Artists like Bob Seger, Megadeth, Journey, BOSTON, and many, many more. All of that was in preparation for me to one day be able to cover Iron Maiden.
For many Maiden fans, the wait for a new record to follow up 2010’s The Final Frontier was a painstakingly long wait. Shortly before Christmas 2014, word was leaked that a new album was completed. Shortly after that the metal world was taken aback with news that Iron Maiden’s lead singer, Bruce Dickinson, had tongue cancer. Rightfully, everything was put on hold but once Bruce was given the all clear last spring, many wondered whether he’d ever be able to sing his famous high notes ever again. Late in the summer the new record was released. Prior to that, with help from a man named Todd, I was given the opportunity to review The Book of Souls before its release date.
The record is vintage Maiden. There are things that I like about every one of their albums (yes, even the Blaze Bayley records). The new one, however, recaptured some of the magic of the era that made them icons but without sounding dated. The three albums prior to this one sort of progressed from one to the next. There’s nothing wrong with them but The Book of Souls is nearly flawless and is the best work they’ve done since Brave New World. There was no evidence to my ears that Mr. Dickinson was dealing with tumors on his tongue while recording the album. When the tour was announced, I was absolutely convinced that they would finally be coming back to Columbus for the first time since 2005 and would headline the United States’ largest festival; Rock on the Range. It wasn’t meant to be, though, and I would have to set my sights a little further north for a trip that I hadn’t made since 2006’s A Matter of Life and Death tour. With more help from the aforementioned Todd, I was given the opportunity to complete my dream live review, albeit with my nose plugged (Go Buckeyes!)….I was headed back to the state of Michigan.
For those of you that aren’t aware of the Iron Maiden phenomenon: This is a global movement. It is a brotherhood that defies all of the other bullshit that plagues the rest of the world. I might be a homer for the band, but there is no other fan base as loyal and dedicated as this one. Their tours are true world tours and hit every corner of the world that’s humanly possible. Their lead singer pilots their jet! This is no ordinary show when Iron Maiden comes to town; it’s a global event. It isn’t just regional, although, Ohio was definitely represented well last night. It’s not even a national event. It is a global gathering. There were no fewer than a dozen nationalities represented in Detroit, Michigan for last night’s show.
At most concerts, there is no ‘rime’ or reason to the house music that plays before the show begins. That isn’t the case with Iron Maiden. The 15,000 fans that turn up know exactly the moment that the show is about to start. When U.F.O.’s Doctor, Doctor begins to blare over the speaker, you know that it’s time to haul back to your seat if you aren’t already there. With thousands of people screaming “Doctor, doctor, please!” there is a buzz that takes over the venue. It is unlike anything that I’ve experienced at any other shows. Like I said, this is an event.
The show kicked off with Dickinson’s howling intro to the new album’s opening track; If Eternity Should Fail. With a fury of flames the band stormed into the meat of the song and carried right on into the record’s single; Speed of Light. They were two songs in at this point and already had the nearly sold out arena at a fever pitch. The momentum only grew from there as they pulled out an oldie that doesn’t get played live too often; the severely underrated Children of the Damned.
Iron Maiden built their massive following over the years by putting on fantastic shows and always striving to go farther with new music. If you want a “greatest hits” show, this is probably not the band for you. Especially, when they are touring on a new album. They’ve never shied away from playing plenty of new tunes. It keeps them fresh and motivated. Dickinson makes it abundantly clear on every album tour that “We aren’t some f****** karaoke band!” Most bands with their catalog can’t do that. Iron Maiden plays new music and does so with literally zero radio play. I heard “Speed of Light” on our local new rock station one time. Once. I’ve not heard it at all on any of the “classic rock” stations. Yet, they wonder why people are switching to satellite radio to get some semblance of variety in their playlist. What other band can fill up arenas and stadiums throughout the world with no radio air time? Yeah, my favorite band is pretty cool.
The next two songs they played are my favorite off of the new album. Tears of a Clown is a sad song that was written in dedication to the late, great comedian Robin Williams. Maiden has also never been one to shy away from writing songs about difficult subjects and this ode to Williams was done flawlessly. It is the type of song that shows their growth through the years and contains some guitar effects that you don’t usually hear from them. The Red and the Black followed in all of it’s thirteen and a half minutes of glory. This song is vintage Maiden to the T. It fits their criteria of every album seeming to contain a chugging, epic of no less than ten minutes. I knew it would make perfect sense to play live because it demands crowd participation.
After Steve Harris’ bass outro brought The Red and the Black to its conclusion, the fans were treated to two of the band’s most popular live staples. Starting with The Trooper, the crowd erupted as soon as they saw the easily recognizable banner change, this has become one of the most anticipated parts of a Maiden show. With Dickinson waving the Union Jack and dressed in red coat garb, the band plowed through the track that plays homage to the Crimean War’s Charge of the Light Brigade. From there it was on to the oft overlooked title track from 1984’s Powerslave. With good reason, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, gets all the love; but to overlook the title track is downright criminal as it might capture the entire band at their absolute best.
The next two songs were the final pieces from the new record. Starting with Death or Glory, a fun track with a great sing along chorus, and finishing up with the title track; The Book of Souls. Before diving into the song, Dickinson used some time to discuss the state of the world’s affairs. The song, which is about the ancient Mayan civilization, has many parallels with all of the great civilizations and dynasties in the history of the world. They all have one thing in common: they fall. Depending on your political leanings, that fall may already be evident.
Along with flying the Union Jack during The Trooper the other most anticipated moment is when Eddie comes on stage. Again, if you’re new to the family, you may wonder who Eddie is. Eddie is the mascot for the band that has adorned the cover of every single record that the band has put out since 1980. On album tours he takes on the character of the new album. The Book of Souls Eddie made his grand entrance during the title track and did his usual walk around the stage, always seeming to pick on Janick Gers before ultimately making his way over to Dickinson. The charismatic singer must have had enough, as he plunged his arm elbow deep into Eddie’s chest cavity and ripped out his heart in true Mayan tradition. The crowd ate up every second of it.
The main set ended with a flurry of classics that should be in every Iron Maiden set list. Surprisingly, it started with usual encore closer (minus the last tour) Hallowed Be Thy Name. This was a curious placement for me, as it usually tends to be the very last song that is played. I am admittedly biased, as I feel that this is the greatest metal song ever written. Ever. Dickinson certainly showed no ill effects from his prior year’s health scare and I was just thrilled that this masterpiece has made it’s way back into the set. They followed that with the eerie Fear of the Dark, which is the Maiden song that captures their rabid fan base at it’s absolute best. As is custom, the main set ended with self-titled track Iron Maiden. The best part about this song being played live, is that you know Eddie comes back. Towards the end of the song his giant head rises up looking out on the crowd in a spectacle that is unique to this band and these fans.
After a very short wait, the encore kicked off with the instantly recognizable spoken intro to 1982’s The Number of the Beast. Before moving on into the next song after Beast, Dickinson took time to acknowledge the worldly aspect of their fan base. Looking around a basketball arena in Detroit, Michigan you saw the flags of the world being waved ferociously by fans that had made their way from around the globe. Poland, Scotland, Argentina, Venezuela, Britain, Canada, and folks from all over these fifty states made their support known to the rest of those in attendance; all of this was a perfect set up for the fan favorite, Blood Brothers.
The final track of the encore was the mandatory sing-along, Wasted Years. At first ponder, closing out the set is not a usual place for this song. However, with everything that Bruce and the band went through in the last year, it makes perfect sense. As the lyric goes: “…Realize you’re living in the golden years!” The same can be said for a guy who just had a dream come true to write a live review of his favorite band; hopefully the first of many more times to come. Up the irons!