Tue 22 Jun – Iron Maiden, Dream Theater
When a band like Iron Maiden comes to your town, it's a good enough reason to cancel all incoming and outgoing flights. It's just that monumental. It's just that epic. Seattle got a taste of that madness when the sextet brought "The Final Frontier World Tour" to the White River Amphitheater in June, promoting the band's 15th studio album among songs that spanned their impressive 30-year career.
For a show of this magnitude, the band got things right by using Gustav Holst's thundering "Mars, the Bringer of War" as the opening music. Red lights flickered from the skies to illuminate the stage, rigged up like the bridge of a space-faring battleship (keeping with the theme of The Final Frontier). Fitting as though "Mars" is, the intro might have stretched a tad too long - but when Adrian Smith struck the first notes of "The Wicker Man", all was forgiven and forgotten. With that, Bruce Dickinson, Dave Murray, Steve Harris and Janick Gers joined Smith and Nicko McBrain to take Auburn to the final frontier.
After the climactic ending of "The Wicker Man", things slowed down a bit with the moody intro to "Ghost of the Navigator", both from 2000's Brave New World. To be blunt, I've never been the biggest fan of "Ghost of the Navigator" (although the sheer visual of seeing Maiden perform the song live made up for it), so there we no complaints from me (or from the rest of the sold out White River Amphitheater") when McBrain and Harris followed it with the drum and bass intro from the classic "Wrathchild", from Killers (1983). Every arm was raised and every set of vocal chords was used for the chorus ("Wrathchild!"), and the song provided a welcome boost after things had slowed down with "Ghost of the Navigator". For "El Dorado", Dickinson advised that we not bother with the free MP3 of the song that was made available , and save our money for the real thing. Even if the chorus of the song lagged a bit, the pace and groove made for a good live performance.
As the chords of "El Dorado" faded into silence, they were replaced by the whistling bombs and explosions in the muddy fields of "Paschendale", arguably one of the best songs Iron Maiden have ever put out. The soft/loud dynamic was enhanced by dimming and brightening of the house lights which darkened and illuminated both the stage of the sold out White River Amphitheater. The massive chorus, led by the charging and galloping Dickinson, was echoed in plenty by everyone in attendance. Definitely a highlight of the evening.
The stop-start nature of the music continued with "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" and "These Colours Don't Run" - both great and highly entertaining songs, but a questionable in a live performance because of their long nature and many different structures. "Blood Brothers" is one of my favorite Iron Maiden songs, but I must confess that the soft intro-loud song-soft outro dynamic had started to get a little formulaic. Still, seeing one of your favorite songs from your favorite band being performed live is never a bad thing, and when Bruce Dickinson dedicated the song to the recently-deceased Ronnie James Dio, the horns thrown to the heavens and the "Dio!" chants captured the moment perfectly.
The tempo picked up with "Wildest Dreams" - not a bad choice for the usual faster album opener, but sandwiched between the see-above "No More Lies" and "Brave New World", seemed lost. Don't get me wrong, I really do love the later-era Iron Maiden, when Steve Harris' compositions began to take on a more epic and almost cinematic scope - but there's a world of difference listening to them on my computer, and seeing the same formula repeat again and again in person. Part of the "problem", if you would call it that, is obviously that Iron Maiden's discography is so extensive that they can't afford to dip exclusively in their 1980s, punk-infused heyday.
The other part of the equation is that Maiden played most of those songs during their last tour, 2008's "Somewhere Back in Time World Tour". Iron Maiden, to their eternal credit, have never been afraid to think and act outside the box; so to see them championing the long, moody epics at the expense of guaranteed crowd-pleasers (and live performance winners like "The Trooper" and "Run To The Hills") is a bold move by the band. It didn't always work that night in Seattle, but the fact that Maiden are out there and doing it says more for them than if they stuck with a tried-and-true formula. Still, if I was given a second opportunity to sing along with chorus of "Run To The Hills", I can hardly see myself complaining.
Had it been any other band but Iron Maiden leading us from another slow intro to a loud verse and chorus, myriad solo and instrumental sections, and then taking us out with another slow outro (and then repeating the formula for the very next song), I might be a bit more harsh in my judgment - but to see five of the six of them leap and bound across the stage infused the songs with energy and fire that other bands would have struggled to recreate. Dickinson was his usual chatty self, while Janick Gers swung his guitar around so much you were afraid he was going to hit someone with it. Adrian Smith was his usual rock-like self, while Dave Murray waltzed and danced along like he was in his own private rehearsal space. Steve Harris - Mr. Maiden himself - was all of the above (minus Dickinson's chattiness) and more, getting the loudest cheer of the night when Dickinson introduced him at the end of the band's set. How much that one man has influenced heavy metal is beyond all estimation, probably. And even though he and his band were promoting an album entitled "The Final Frontier", you have to think that, based on the strength of the album and the brilliance of their live performance, there's still more gas in Eddie's tank.
"Fear of the Dark" followed, my second time seeing it live, and just as life-changing as the first. It is, really, the perfect Iron Maiden live song: the lights are dimmed, the audience chants and sings along to the guitar lines and Bruce Dickinson's crooning voice, before an explosion of sound and luminescence transported the audience to a musical landscape of nightmares and things that live in the shadows and the dark. True, "Fear of the Dark" continued the formula that we had seen for so much of the evening, but this was the song that started Iron Maiden's journey down the epic songwriting textures that have characterized their musical output recent years (since 1995, anyway). "Iron Maiden" followed, with the evening's only appearance of Eddie, now a grotesque alien - not as cool as Cyborg Eddie from two years ago, but fun to see Maiden become a quadruple-guitar band for a moment.
When Iron Maiden departed the stage at the end of the song, the cheers and roars for them to return grew louder and louder - until a voice intoned that the devil would send the beast with wrath, at which point the roof of the White River Amphitheater nearly came off. After the build, Maiden took the stage again for "The Number of the Beast", with Bruce Dickinson's scream echoing far and wide beyond Auburn, WA. It's companion from the album of the same name followed, but while "Hallowed By Thy Name" ended the previous Iron Maiden show in these parts, this time it set the crowd up for the true finale. Much as I love "Hallowed Be Thy Name", it never worked for me as the closer for a live show. After its epic conclusion, Nicko McBrain's drum rhythm set up "Running Free", which, along with Dickinson's extensive back-and-forth with the exhausted and hoarse crowd, made for a suitably rousing finish to the evening.
All things considered, as much as I preferred the music on offer this time, I think Iron Maiden's show in 2008 was better. The songs had much more energy and power to them, whereas what we saw this year lacked that same energy and spark. Cosmetic changes - only one appearance of Eddie, while we saw him two or three times last time, and no pyro at all, only puffs of smoke for "The Number of the Beast" - made the whole show seem a bit more low-key than 2008. That shouldn't take away from the band themselves, who were on-key, on-song and on fire. This is Iron Maiden, and you get every cent of your money's worth. And had it been any other band out there, I may have been more damning in my sentence. But when Messrs. McBrain, Murray, Dickinson, Harris, Smith and Gers take the stage, strap yourself in. It's a hell of a ride. The final frontier looms, and Iron Maiden are the soundtrack. Iron MaidenA Matter of Life and DeathDance Of DeathThe Final FrontierFear of the DarkBrave New WorldThe Number of the BeastKillersWrathchildFear of the DarkThe Number of the BeastHallowed Be Thy NameThe Wicker ManGustav HolstBlood BrothersDioEl DoradoPaschendale