This is one concert that had been a long time coming. You would have to find a seriously lost corner of the world to find a person who hadn’t heard of them. They’re one of the biggest bands in the world, with decades of touring behind them spanning a career that goes back to the 1970s. With a number of hits behind them, it was sure to be a concert that could do no wrong. Could the legendary performance of Def Leppard in 2008 finally have met it’s match?
Before we got onto the main act however, there was some unfinished business in the form of Airbourne. I had been there at the beginning – on Running Wild. I remember when they played the basement of Nottingham’s Rock City – a date I missed, but I managed to catch them months later at the same venue. They were playing the main hall this time. Lead singer Joel O’Keeffe seemed unsure of whether he was intoxicated or not, there was a lot of smoke, and generally all the songs were played out of tempo. O’Keeffe’s famous ‘climb on something and do a guitar solo on top’ happened atop the Rock City balcony, which he subsequently jumped off and landed on the sound system, much to the dismay of the staff. In my review, it led me to use the words ‘next time I will be in the mosh pit, or not at all’.
Funny then, when Airbourne come on, and are more or less exactly the same as before. O’Keefe slurs his words a little, with a bottle of red wine in hand. There’s a lot of smoke machines going on, and a lot of noise. The entire band jump around the stage, running back and forth to give the audience the best view. Again, the music is off tempo, slowing down to a crawl at points. Then, they do the unthinkable – breaking up their sing-along songs mid-riff to stop and have a chat with the audience. I expected nothing less. As they closed their set with more songs from their first album than their second, I started to wonder where all the new material was at, or indeed why O’Keeffe hadn’t climbed something dangerous yet. Songs like ‘Born To Kill’, ‘Armed And Dangerous’, ‘Steel Town’ and (of course) ‘Blonde, Bad, And Beautiful’ all seem to be missing from the set list, even though they are some of Airbourne’s best songs. A bit rich for the band to ask the audience if they’ve saved up their money to see the gig, and use that to get them ready for the main act. But then I remember that they’re only the warm-up band – they couldn’t steal Maiden’s thunder, could they?
I mosh around a bit at the end, but then I get a little nervous. Surely Airbourne could be twice as good, and not even scratch Maiden’s performance? Airbourne definitely seemed to hold back on their set, meaning a lot of older people just saw a bog-standard rock band that didn’t excite of enthuse them in any way. But alarm bells were ringing a little bit – what did Iron Maiden have to fear from these Aussie rockers?
Fears aside, thirty minutes later, and we’re into the main event. After one of the longest entrances I think I’ve ever seen (it took five minutes, from the lights, the air raid sirens, the rumbling noises, the stars in the background, the smoke, more rumbling, the sounds stopping, more lights, and then the band came on), the band come on – and not to Aces High as I predicted, but some unknown one from their new album. It was a trend that was to accelerate into this gig from the offset, and kill Iron Maiden’s hopes of ever being a top notch performance in my eyes.
It’s a given that their current tour is called The Final Frontier, after their latest album release. You would expect some songs to be played from the next material, and that’s fine. However, you expect them to be played without the expense of losing the older songs. To criticise a band of this magnitude, I need solid evidence to support my critique. As I only own 2 Iron Maiden albums – Edward The Great and Fear Of The Dark – I have to be sure that the toned-down vibes of the audience as they left the place were genuine. After all, from the first song right through to the last, Iron Maiden gave a top-notch performance. All the right notes were hit, the band looked like they were enjoying themselves, and the audience generally looked happy. The circle pit was not too violent, the older generations weren’t too drunk, the youngsters weren’t too rowdy, and nobody looked bored. Well, until we got towards the end, that is.
So, asserting that audience and band were one with each other right until the bitter end, here is the absolute ultimate problem with this concert. Edward The Great is a ‘greatest hits’ compilation. I am going to read out the five (that’s correct – FIVE) songs on that CD that Iron Maiden played last night – The Number Of The Beast, The Trooper, 2 Minutes To Midnight, The Evil That Men Do, The Wicker Man. Literally, that is it. Already you may be beginning to see the big issue with Maiden’s performance. I’ll just read out of some of Maiden’s greatest hits now, in no particular order, of just a few songs that you may have expected them to play, but didn’t make the set list – Flight Of Icarus, Can I Play With Madness?, Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter, Wasted Years, Aces High, Brave New World, Afraid To Shoot Strangers, Be Quick Or Be Dead, and – most SHAMEFULLY – Run To The Hills. This is also of course keeping in mind that Bruce Dickinson will hardly ever play songs from the ‘Blaze Bailey’ era of Maiden either, so all those songs are absent as well.
Now… is it just me, or were people expecting more of the songs above than material from the new album? Fear Of The Dark made an appearance, and I feel lucky that they played that. For a band that claim to be ‘a band of the fans’, I just didn’t get it. I understand they don’t want to be labelled as ‘that band from the eighties’, but even reciting Fear Of The Dark seemed to be a bit of an effort for Dickinson. Even with all the shouting and jumping, after you’ve been to as many concerts as I have, you can tell the ones who are fed up with their job and the ones who aren’t. Some may tell me to give Iron Maiden a break, that they’ve been going a long time and they’re bored with playing their old songs and want to do new things.
Okay, well let me tell you about some bands I’ve seen in the past. First and foremost, Def Leppard and Whitesnake in the same arena hall back in 2008. They had both made new studio albums – Songs From The Sparkle Lounge and Good To Be Bad. They played a few songs from their new albums, and all the rest were all classic rock anthems. They played the songs with smiles on their faces – the songs were the tunes that had made their bands what they are today. Maybe they’re labelled as exclusively ‘eighties bands’. Maybe not. But the look of joy on the faces of the fans were now what kept them going. Imagine if David Coverdale hadn’t sung ‘Here I Go Again’, or if Def Leppard decided to omit ‘Photograph’ and ‘Armageddon It’. The concert just wouldn’t have been what it was. What is was, was better than what Iron Maiden delivered last night. And just to kick Maiden when they’re down, lest not we forget AC/DC last year at Donnington. You may think AC/DC have nothing to with Iron Maiden, but you’d be surprised how many Download Festival 2010 shirts I saw fans wearing last night. It was a festival that was so legendary, it’s still rife in metal concerts to this day. AC/DC didn’t feel like making an entire set list about Black Ice. No, they did the whole lot – T.N.T, Back In Black, Thunderstruck… they played so many hits I can’t really recall all of them. But they played songs from the Bon Scott era as well – songs AC/DC were performing long before Iron Maiden’s best albums even existed. And AC/DC played still with smiling faces and enthusiastic performances. Okay, it was the 30th anniversary of the Monsters Of Rock, maybe I saw a special one-off show or something – but something tells me not.
The point here is that Iron Maiden have no foot to stand on. Their refusal to play the classic songs that people have paid them to perform is an insult to the fans in my eyes. They are, after all, the songs that made Iron Maiden the band they are. They are never going to have a number one hit today – heavy metal was a genre of the 1980s whether they like it or not.
I’m sure the band will come round eventually – at the moment, they feel they’re the best band in the world, and seem to be taking their fans for granted. Unfortunately they’re not the best band in the world – these are. And really, there’s nothing more to say. This concert could have been the stuff of legend, but fell short of something as stupid as not playing signature songs. All the gusto is there, as well as the atmosphere. But not even a giant Ed appearing the background could lift the mood when the audience realised that the show was closing with so many classic tracks missing. And the encore ended with another track that didn’t seem to ring many bells to me or those around me. Thus, the show ended not with a bang, but a whimper, and I for one felt I’d only seen half a performance from both acts concerned.
It’s hard to rate a concert so well executed and performed. How much can you criticise a band for playing the songs from the album that the tour is supposed to be promoting? I think Iron Maiden is trying too hard to be a modern band, and if they’d just embrace their 1980s heritage more, their concerts could be up there with the genuine legends of musical metal performance.