Iron Maiden New York City

By Mick Stingley, Contributor
Thursday, June 19, 2008 @ 6:18 PM

At Madison Square Garden

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Madison Square Garden occupies two city blocks in lower-Midtown Manhattan between 7th & 8th Avenues and West 31st and West 33rd Streets, basking in the notoriety of its epic history. Howard Cosell called countless fights here; thousands of bands have played MSG and a scant few seven years ago, the Concert for 9/11was held here. The New York Knickerbockers play here (lately not so gallantly) and the New York Rangers hockey team calls Madison Square Garden home.

Singers from Sinatra to Shakira to Streisand have swaggered and swiveled and Simply-Barbara'd here; there is an annual dog show of some renown and on almost any given Sunday there is some children's show or something-on-ice entertaining people from all over.

Campy wrestlers, prominent sports figures, circuses and animals, Elton John, Madonna, comedians, rock bands and performers from all walks of life have made history here: for the past 40 years this small civic venue with seating for 20,000 has become ingrained in the public consciousness as the place to be. It has been five years since Maiden played The Garden. The last time around was with Dio and Motorhead; so with only one opening act, (Lauren Harris, the daughter of Maiden's Steve Harris), the atmosphere was in especially high spirits. Two-plus solid hours of Maiden! What more could a metal fan ask for (and reasonably expect)? Little did anyone know, tonight was to be a night like no other.

When the lights went out at 8PM sharp a snippet of Winston Churchill's famous pre-World War II speech to a firebombed England played over the PA: "We shall fight them... we shall fight them... we will never surrender..." A staple of Maiden concerts, this call-to-arms also seems to serve as the band's manifesto, which was punctuated by an explosive display of pyro as the lights came up and the band ripped into "Aces High." The band itself is a spectacle: while bassist Harris seems to find comfort with one foot planted on a monitor, and drummer Nicko McBrain is hidden behind a stack of gleaming cymbals, singer Bruce Dickinson darts crazily around the stage like a manic child in a toy store. The band's three guitarists, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers are as caffeinated as Dickinson, at once together, playing in unison, then flying apart and careening around. Lacking a set and colorful backdrops Iron Maiden would be just as lively, blazing through song after song.

Earlier this year Iron Maiden performed a few select dates in America; and tonight's set was no different. "Somewhere Back In Time" is the name of the tour, which highlights the band's heyday in the 80s and features songs from The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and Fear of the Dark - a sliver anniversary of sorts. Though Maiden's fans from this era are now in in their 30s and 40s - and the band members are in their late 40s and early 50s - the evening was less about nostalgia and more of a celebration. Here in this storied arena was a metal band at the top of its game: Maiden has weathered industry format changes from vinyl and cassettes to digital music files; they have suffered line-up changes and reformed as the music scene and record industry has splintered and shattered. They have persevered throughout the years while continuing to make excellent music in a world where talentless shrieking teenage karaoke winners glut the airwaves and fill the gossip columns... here is Iron Maiden: Relentless, steadfast and unshakable.

And they still sound fresh, feel new and are as exciting and relevant as they ever were. While "2 Minutes to Midnight" might not chill the bones as it did twenty-five years ago during the Cold War when lyrics about nuclear annihilation were far more pointed, the band still blasts through the song driving home the larger notion that war never goes out of style. Therefore, it seems that neither does Iron Maiden. The song is an audience favorite and the crowd picked up the chorus, joining singer Bruce Dickinson is fist-raising cheers.

With its stage set encompassing the "Powerslave/World Slavery" tour, an ancient Egypt-styled Sphinx with sandstone pyramid blocks flanking the stage, Iron Maiden soldiered on. "Revelations" followed, and after that came "The Trooper" as Dickinson donned a crimson jacket and waved the Union Jack, belting out the song to the delight of the Garden. The song kicked off a four-song arc of speed and familiarity, charging through "Wasted Years," "The Number of the Beast" and "Can I Play With Madness."

The epic "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is every much as a highlight of the night as it was a few months ago, with Dickinson donning a tattered cloak as the stage filled with dry ice and the lighting rig rocked and swayed like a boat drifting through hazy waters. But it was another song from the epic Powerslave record, the title song, which managed to shock and delight the audience more than any other.

As can be witnessed online in various clips uploaded to the internet by concert-goers with cell-phone video, in the middle of the song, (ironically) Maiden's power cut out. (Here's an example). While the humor of the moment is captured online, the sheer excitement of it had to be witnessed live. Not only was something happening which was completely unexpected by the audience, the band was clearly taken by surprise. Any band, especially Maiden, can run through a set of carefully prearranged songs and cues and still please an audience; but to have something go awry raises eyebrows and sets pulses racing. Now what

? It is preposterous to consider, but this technical malfunction was easily one of the greatest moments of the show because on this night, live at Madison Square Garden, instead of running from the stage or throwing a tantrum, the members of Iron Maiden kept right on entertaining in spite of their inability to communicate with the audience aurally. While techies could be seen scurrying backstage and the soundboard ops seemed completely flummoxed, someone from backstage brought out a soccer ball and the members of Iron Maiden kicked it around. Drummer McBrain came out from behind his kit to join the rest and the audience cheered along, chanting the band's name. There was no booing, hissing, or cries of frustration from the crowd: because Maiden proved itself over that five or ten minutes. In the face of adversity, the band never faltered, never wavered and never surrendered. There wasn't much they could do, but what they did was more than enough. They lived up to their legacy and resolve, and they continued to put on a show. Iron Maiden playing soccer, on stage... well here's something you don't see every day. And while the band won't be sending Real Madrid to the showers anytime soon, they were fantastic to watch. It was a crazy moment, but everyone at MSG was smiling (except maybe the sound-guy).

When the power was restored, Dickinson apologized (though he rather scandalously referenced another incident during its Ozzfest appearance when Sharon Osbourne notoriously messed with Maiden's set a few years ago) and offered the crowd a choice: the band could finish the song, or start another. It really wasn't clear which the audience wanted by the sheer power of cheers, so Maiden elected to begin another song and offered up "Heaven Can Wait." This brief setback, such as it might have been, seemed to re-energize the group as they positively blazed through the rest of the set. "Run to the Hills" and "Fear of the Dark" were performed at express-lane speed, as was the closer, the omnipresent staple of its concerts, "Iron Maiden."

The band returned for an encore with "Moonchild" and the always excellent "The Clairvoyant;" wrapping up the evening with "Hallowed Be They Name." During the encore Dickinson proposed the band return with a new record for the next Garden show, which drew a huge response from the crowd. As it should be. Iron Maiden never disappoints live and the sheer prospect of being able to come back and see them do it all over again is something to look forward to. Maiden may not be venerated by the mainstream, or honored in pictures on the walls of The Garden foyer, but this crazy, iconic British metal band set a new standard for live performances this evening. They sold out the Garden and rocked, and more than that, they did it (for a little while) without sound. Beat that, Madonna.

Photos by Evelyn Duncan

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