Friday, August 03, 2018
LIVE REVIEW: Simply the Best - Iron Maiden leave Belfast slack-jawed in amazement
THERE are stage shows, there are great stage shows, and then there are amazing mélange of songs and stage shows. And then there is Iron Maiden. Surpassing all, not just hyperbole - but an acknowledgement that they are simply the best.
The Maiden machine's descent upon Belfast's SSE on August 2nd was a masterclass on how to do an arena show. Other acts will be scratching their heads on how to even come close, never mind match this show.
The choice of Killswitch Engage as support may have had some people wondering, given their status as metalcore pioneers. However, the age range of Maiden fans is such that they appealed to many.
And, Jesse Leach was well aware that they had to engage the building audience from the off. Sure, the tomfoolery of Adam Dutkiewcz was an interesting aside, but the band used every second of their support slot to pack in songs sure to have horns raised.
Both Leach and Howard Jones songs were deployed, but Jesse's voice has a commanding presence, with opener 'Strength of Mind', 'Hate By Design' and 'My Last Serenade'.
Much more effective when headliners in their own right Leach committed the supporting act faux pas, reminding everyone that they were there to see Iron Maiden - yeah we all knew that!
Concluding with a crowd-pleasing, and affectionate, cover of Dio's Holy Diver a return to Belfast will be most welcomed by most.
For those who have watched the documentary 'Belly of the Beast' the level of detail, consideration and rehearsals that Iron Maiden and their team put into every tour comes as no surprise.
Regimented, disciplined, well-oiled etc etc. For many bands this could result in a stilted performance. Not Maiden. They take professionalism to another level. If they were to stand in front of long-time manager Rod Smallwood for their annual job evaluation they would exceed all expectations.
And, on this 'Legacy Of The Beast' show previous Maiden shows were well exceeded...
Presented as a metal opera in four acts - war, religion, hell and damnation - this was not only well constructed but thought through in its conception and execution.
From the military-garbed crew unveiling the camo netting as the strains of 'Doctor, Doctor' echoed around the SSE through to the final wail of 'Run To The Hills' not a foot or moment was wasted.
In the carefully coordinated moments of Churchill's Speech anticipation within the sold-out venue was perhaps higher than ever before. And, there was a fucking Spitfire. A 90% lifesize replica of a Spitfire from 302 Squadron - a Polish squadron - flew above the stage as 'Aces High' had 90% of the audience bellowing along. A vocal nod to the 100th anniversary of the RAF and noting that young men a third of his age went off to fight Nazism was just and apt.
'Where Eagles Dare' - with Bruce in mountaineering garb - and an outstanding 'Two Minutes to Midnight' had the audience slack-jawed in amazement.
Turning to the Bayley-era 'The Clansman' Dickinson took the time to speak about 'Freedom' and in response the SSE joined in during the track.
'The Trooper' concluded the 'War' section with Bruce duelling with a 12 foot Eddie; the track only diminished by Bruce waving a Legacy of the Beast flag instead of the Union Flag the rest of the tour will see. It's a song about the Crimean War, based on a poem, not a political statement. Fuck sake Northern Ireland is disappearing up its own arsehole when this happens.
A sign that Maiden know how to play their audience was the tracks 'Revelations' and 'For The Greater Good of God'. As the backdrop changed to a cathedral like illumination (with saints replaced by the various incarnations of Eddie in the stained glass) these were tracks for aficionados not those for the hits. Thankfully most there were aficionados.
'The Wicker Man' and 'Sign Of The Cross' - with Bruce in demented monk mode - kept it all moving along.
Steve Harris grinning like it was his first show machine-gunning the audience with his bass, the entire band were not only 'on form' but were revelling in what they were doing.
Murray and Smith trading licks and riffs, while Gers was rivalling Bruce in the Energizer Bunny stakes and hamming up at every opportunity.
As if a theatrical performance all hit their 'marks' while anchoring all was an exuberant performance from the grinning Nicko. Every time the stage cameras captured him his smile was radiant. One bass drum, no drum triggers, a plethora of toms, his work rate might seem as you watch relaxed but the man exudes class.
Now many bands have pyros. Flames and all that. Bruce had his own fucking flamethrower. Threatening band mates a vast Icarus' wings fell to ashes.
To give an insight to the level of professionalism a photographer revealed that prior to the show beginning a Maiden PR person briefed all the togs where Bruce would leap on the opening number...in order that all in the photo pit could get the best possible shot. Equal that!
Adorned with a plague mask 'Fear of the Dark' saw the Belfast choir chanting and signing on command, while 'Number of the Beast was, well 'Number of the Beast'.
With the main set closing with a hyper-speed 'Iron Maiden' the trio of tracks for the encore had the audience both rapt and using every last ounce of energy. 'The Evil That Men Do' merged seamlessly into 'Hallowed by thy Name' complete with cell and swaying noose.
As 'Run To The Hills' had yet more fists, horns and strained vocal chords there was no doubt the audience left as 'Always Look On The Bright Side of Life' played they were not only sated, but delighted.
As per each show on this tour Iron Maiden came on at precisely the same time, and departed at the same time. Contrived? No professional. But being professional, and executing the same set night after night does mot mean that the band does not deliver anything other than pure heavy metal excellence. The enthusiasm was evident, not just a set of men doing their jobs.
The only niggle across the entire evening was the massed ranks of phones. Watch the gig - you're tiny screen will never capture the majesty of Maiden.
What next for the Irons? Another album, tour to support that and a farewell greatest hits tour? That'll do nicely.
Review by Jonathan Taynor