As the Golden Age of music draws to a close, we are constantly saddened by the frequent passing of not only our favorite musicians, but the musicians who made the music what it is. They were the dreamers and the game changers. As the twilight falls around us, the magic ages. After decades of touring, many of those bands we coveted as kids are slowly winking out, losing their exuberance to age, health, and change. But there is one band who defies the laws of God and nature, gives the finger to cancer, and refuses to go away…refuses to give up…and refuses to give an inch of ground to the fade of mediocrity. While everyone else is winding down, they’re winding up.
The only fade you’ll ever get from Iron Maiden is when the lights go down just before a ginormous blast of a pyrotechnic display, which is exactly how the show opens. Shrouded in fog, a dark figure hunches over a cauldron atop a giant Mayan stone wall. The mains rumble with the dark, eerie lows of orchestral strings. The crowd is silent. The mournful wail of a synth flute wafts down from the rafters as a hooded figure stirs the pot rolls the fog down over the stage. A lone voice cries out, “Here is the soul of a man. Here in this place for the taking…”. As the voice finishes its soliloquy, the stage suddenly erupts in fire; there is a burst of music. The hood is thrown off and the figure of Bruce Dickinson, in his usual cargo pants and boots, runs down the wall, and catches some superbig air, landing just in time to spin his microphone stand and sing the chorus of If Eternity Should Fail, the band’s opening number. You can barely hear it over the roar of a sold-out crowd of 18,000, and I thought to myself that, in all my years of concerts and photography, this may very well have been the first and last time I wished I had my earplugs, but not because the band was too loud….but because a crowd loved a band enough to drown them out.
Much of the setlist was in support of the band’s Book of Souls album. From If Eternity, the band ran right into the head bobbing, more cowbell, 80’s metal-esque Speed Of Light off the same album. It’s really hard to hold the camera still. I can’t decide if I want to rock out or take pictures. There’s just so much energy, and it isn’t until later that I realize that my 4k video of this song’s performance has me howling along with Bruce in my own metal-opera voice in a rousing chorus of “Shadows in the stars…We will not return…Humanity won’t save us…at the speed of liiiiiiiiight…”. I think there’s even a hair flip in front of the camera. Oh, well. The lights are just going crazy. Spotlights float over the GA floor crowd. People are starting to crowd surf. Security isn’t happy, but it’s Maiden. The devil doesn’t make them do it, Eddie does.
Talk, talk, talk…..shhhhhhh….Steve Harris time. Steve Harris is the brain-child behind much of Maiden’s music. One of the most brilliant bass players to every walk across a stage, the opening bass riff from Wrathchild thumps over the mains, and I’m a happy girl. I might have let out a little squee….just a little. Wrathchild is track two in the wayback machine, from their first major studio album (when Adrian Smith joined them on guitar) released back in 1981 when Paul D’Anno was the singer. The cover is a gnarly yellow Eddie with a slimy hatchet in his hand getting his lapels pulled by the begging hands of his unfortunate victim. It’s my favorite incarnation of Eddie. I’m even wearing a dress that’s made out of the album cover art. I like all Maiden, but the early cuts are my jam. The kids in the audience get a little quiet. This one is before their time, but that just opens up the dance floor in front of our seats for us old folks to cut a little rug. But that’s OK! Because as the song comes to a close, Bruce wants to have a word with the “youngers”, and by youngers he means everyone born after 1982. Surprisingly (or not), literally half of this crowd is Generation Y and Millennials, and they’re VERY loud. 1982 was the year that launched Iron Maiden into the spotlight to make them one of the biggest powerhouse bands that music history has ever known. 1982 was the release year for the band’s first big studio album The Number of the Beast. Not only did Number reach No. 1 on the UK Albums chart, but it was the band’s big introduction of their new lead singer…the man who would become a legend in rock ‘n’ roll, noted for his tireless, unwavering energy, his NBA-worthy jumps, his never-ending voice, and his knack for transforming his personal passion for history and literature into song…Mr Bruce Dickinson. Ironically, after addressing the vastness of the younger crowd, Bruce ends the segment Dickinson suggested that 1982 was, of course, the year everyone began having sex to Iron Maiden songs (wink wink), though citing that it’s very difficult to have sex to an Iron Maiden song because “even though they’re long, they just sorts of stop and start and stop and start.” In keeping with his tongue-in-cheek monologue, and the band performed Children of the Damned, which was a track from that year’s album.
The show went on. Bruce went on and on and on, and little Nicholas the drumset teddybear held on and on. Sprinkling the past with the present, the band took the audience all the way back to the beginning and brought us forward. In between classic selections were no less theatrical highlights from the Book of Souls album, including one Bruce Dickinson bouncing about on stage in a monkey mask dangling bananas in the face of Dave Murray during his Death Or Glory guitar solo. Steve Harris slayed The Trooper from 1983’s Piece of Mind album. Bruce donned his Red Coat and waved a tattered Union Jack from his post top the big stone wall, draping Janick Gers with it during the guitar solo that everyone who listens to rock music can sing note for note. The lights went green, the backdrop changed to a new Eddie, and the crunchy guitar chug-chug-a-lug chugga-lugga of Powerslave (1984) began with Bruce leaping around the stage in the essence of the Luchadore mask he wore for that specific occasion. A towering Eddie appeared on stage to challenge a dueling Dickinson for his heart during the title track performance from Book of Souls, and later, a touching moment came when the lights went down and the audience came together to sing “Ohhhh” and sway along to the hollow, haunting guitar verse of Fear of the Dark (1992), which, of course ended abruptly with Nicko-coordinated flame bursts. The band ended the official set with a line drive all the way back to their very first release Iron Maiden, the title track off the self-titled album Iron Maiden from 1980.
The band’s appearance at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Downtown Phoenix was part of the band’s Book Of Souls world tour. The stop was an installment in the Part 2 of the band’s longest tour since their Somewhere On Tour run in 1986. The Book Of Souls tour, which began in February 2016 and is still running strong into the summer of 2017. In 2017, this particular tour found the most iconic metal band in all of music history debuting their performance in Beijing and Shanghai China and also in El Salvador. The concert in El Salvador went on record as being the country’s largest event in its history, and the band received a special Thank You from the Ministry of Tourism there. At the end of the show, Bruce triumphantly announced that when this tour is over, “We’re not going to stop!”
All photos Copyright© 2017 JAM Vaughan (LivingDedGrrl™). All rights reserved. Do not use without written permission. Do not remove watermark.