Iron Maiden in New York City

By Mick Stingley, Contributor
Saturday, July 17, 2010 @ 1:26 PM

Madison Square Garden

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Iron Maiden, the six man metal juggernaut best known to mainstream audiences for its galloping rhythms and horror comic mascot (“Eddie”), returned to Madison Square Garden Monday night, triumphantly.

The triumph is not merely one of selling out the twenty thousand-seat arena once again (they last played in 2008; and before that in 2003 and 2000): the triumph, especially for a band as esteemed in the metal community as Maiden, is that they overcame the ongoing conflict between artist and patron and, to a lesser extent, that among patrons.

The Final Frontier World Tour (Maiden’s sixth North American visit in ten years), comes in support of the forthcoming The Final Frontier (EMI/Universal/Ume), due August 17th – the band’s first new studio album since A Matter of Life and Death in 2006. It features all the thrilling and usual trappings of any Maiden tour: an elaborate set; numerous colorful backdrops; a giant stilt-walking ghoul-puppet; and an overwhelming array of logo-emblazoned merchandise worthy of the latest transoceanic First Class edition of SkyMall – all things to be cherished.

In addition to the standard-issue Maiden furnishings, the group has released, available for free download, [IronMaiden.com], one of the new songs from The Final Frontier: “El Dorado.” Prior to the tour, Iron Maiden announced it would be premiering this new song… and further explained that this tour would be a showcase for material written over the past decade, eclipsing earlier works in favor of highlighting more recent, less famous songs.

And therein lies the controversy.

The scourge visited by Iron Maiden upon the classicists within its epic congregation is the ongoing struggle to reconcile the set-list for any given tour. This torment is only a minor affliction, but a troubling one nonetheless; bringing headache and verbal trauma those injured, malingering around parking lots and certain bars shakings fists at the sky… spewing bile and cursing at the internet. For the recently converted, the casual listeners… the Iron Maiden Abecedarian, this is never a problem. For them, it is simply enough to experience the band in all its glory, pomp and circumstance, anxiously hoping for bread and circuses.

The setlist was revealed online following the start of the tour, on June 9th - opening night in Dallas, Texas. Typical of large-scale tours, the setlist did not vary from show to show; lighting cues and sound engineering tend to preclude such things. So as Maiden traveled from city to city, a debate surfaced online and overshadowed the tour itself.

While many have complained about this reliance on relatively new material, it’s easy to forget that for the past few years, Maiden has been treating fans to tours which showcase its’ colorful history: 1999’s tour was essentially a greatest hits outing; in 2005 the group’s Ozzfest outing was a showcase of the first four albums; and the last visit to Madison Square Garden in 2008 was an 80s retrospective.

Truly, Iron Maiden could announce a World Tour - “The Repeating Decimal Of The Beast” – where the band plays The Number of the Beast over and over all night – and it would sell out. The tee-shirt concessions featuring new artwork and tour dates would yield bragging rights for those who attended… “Dude, I saw the ‘Decimal’ tour a few years back – I can’t believe you missed it! That was the best one ever!” But still, in this day and age, someone would be disappointed and take to slagging the group.

On Monday night, however, Iron Maiden resolved any concerns – at least for the sold-out crowd lucky enough to be in attendance.

Flanked by two, giant video screens, Maiden took the stage to the charging raw guitars of “The Wicker Man,” the hands went up and smiles widened. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith appeared first, with Nicko McBrain seated behind his drumkit. Steve Harris and Jannick Gers followed, and a crazed lead singer came leaping after, darting around the stage. Vocalist Dickinson lead the crowd on the sweeping chorus: “Your time will come!”From this the band moved swiftly into “Ghost of the Navigator.”

The first two songs of the night harkened back a decade, when Iron Maiden owned rock headlines with the release of Brave New World, which featured the return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith to the group and marked the new status of the band as a six-piece (rather than boot Jannick Gers who had replaced Smith ten years prior to that). That these songs were so well met by the audience shows what an impact that album had made; and what ten short years of reflection demonstrates.

The third song, “Wrathchild,” kept the momentum at high-gear with a nod to the very early days of the band; and made for an excellent transition into the new “El Dorado;” Dickinson introducing the song with a meandering yet powerful exhortation on the necessity of his band not resting on its laurels and the importance of releasing new material.

Some people may like the song, while others may not; but “El Dorado” burns with a scorching guitar riff and sounds excellent live and should soon take its rightful place in the pantheon of great Maiden songs. Performed against a backdrop and stage which looks remarkably like an oil derrick, the lyrics blaze with the not-so-subtly hidden underpinnings of social commentary.

What followed was a six-song arc of relatively new songs, which were rendered with typical bombast and energy; but, perhaps more curiously, were met with as enthusiastic a reception as any classic Maiden number…perhaps even more so.

The acoustic strumming of Adrian Smith on “Dance Of Death” lends itself to a giddy comparison of Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge” mandolin-break…and yet once the electrics are cued, the song rises to the rafters with retired Knicks jerseys. The epic number, “The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg,” (from A Matter Of Life and Death) was one of the evening’s highlights. In front of a ghastly, pick-wielding Eddie screen, the band plumbed seven minutes of grinning Dave Murray grandeur, with Dickinson trolling around the scaffolding, his voice soaring.

But the single highest point the band achieved on Monday night was its’ tribute to Ronnie James Dio. Maiden was originally meant to tour with Heaven and Hell, Dio’s Last musical venture and his sudden loss this year was heartbreaking. Dickinson, who, with Maiden shared that very stage with Dio back in 2003, delivered a quite moving speech, invoking a slight imitation of Dio for levity’s sake, and bringing the room together by getting damn near everyone to throw the horns, Dio-style, in honor of the man. Maiden offered “Blood Brothers,” (from Brave New World), as a tribute – and for every syllable on the choruses, the audience sang along with the same enthusiasm met by fans on the recording of “Rock In Rio.”

The rest of the set was classic, pre-millennium Maiden. “Fear of the Dark” was called in to cheers; and the staple of all Maiden concert primary set enders, “Iron Maiden” brought out the latest incarnation of “Eddie”… an Alien inspired HR Giger zombie-ghoul who strutted around the stage, towering over the members and throwing the goat to the crowd. What was especially cool about this year’s model was the point-of-view camera mounted on top of Eddie’s head. Displayed on the screens for all to see, Jannick Gers fought admirably against the monster with his guitar while the other members raced around. Adrian Smith seemed positively amused by the creature, who appeared behind him headbanging.

The encore brought together the warring factions of these long-haired, black-tee-shirted patrons of the arts as classical and renaissance tastes alike were met in rock as both young and old, first-timers and old-timers screamed along to “The Number of the Beast.” “Hallowed Be They Name” followed and the thrilling “Running Free” closed the night.

The only downside to the evening is the only downside to any of the band’s shows, and that is, simply, that Iron Maiden doesn’t play longer sets.

What’s important to remember, and something that recent first-timers savor is simply this: Iron Maiden is a band like no other, and no other band like them will come around in our lifetime – now is the time to see them. They are a thing to be cherished.

Iron Maiden is going to get you, wherever you are… but only for a limited time.

    01. The Wicker Man
    02. The Ghost Of The Navigator
    03. Wrathchild
    04. El Dorado
    05. Dance Of Death
    06. The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg
    07. These Colours Don't Run
    08. Blood Brothers
    09. Wildest Dreams
    10. No More Lies
    11. Brave New World
    12. Fear Of The Dark
    13. Iron Maiden
    14. The Number Of The Beast (encore)
    15. Hallowed Be Thy Name (encore)
    16. Running Free (encore)

All photos by Evelyn Duncan © 2010

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