Artist: Iron Maiden
Venue: The O2
Date: 11 August 2018
“Matt – What are the odds you’d like to go see Iron Maiden together at the O2 on the 11th of August?”
There are worse ways to wake up, I can tell you – especially when the message comes from none other than Nick Van Dyk, guitarist, songwriter and creator of the progressive metal band, Redemption, a band that I truly love. And Iron Maiden? For me, they are one of the all-time greats, one of the bands that got me into heavy metal back when I was a shy, naïve teenager.
Somehow, I hadn’t even registered that the NWOBHM legends were playing a tour, so the message was even more of a bolt out of the blue. Nevertheless, the Man of Much Metal immediately sprang into action, called in a few family favours and got a babysitter sorted in double-quick time. With the Minis of Much Metal sorted and my partner (the Moaner about Much Metal?) sweet-talked into letting me go off gallivanting, I got back to Nick to accept the unbelievably kind offer.
The day of the gig dawned and, after undertaking fatherly duties by taking my girls to their swimming lessons, I headed down the road to the Big Smoke. As I travelled, I couldn’t help but think about meeting Nick, one of my prog metal heroes, the writer of some killer music, including the incredibly emotional and beautiful ‘Keep Breathing’. I’d interviewed him over the phone in my Powerplay days and even met him briefly in a drunken state at ProgPower Europe in 2011. But I’d never spoken with him on a personal level. Being the insecure and socially awkward chap that I can be, I began to think ‘what if we don’t get on?’, ‘what if we run out of conversation?’, ‘will he think I’m boring and regret the offer?’ Social anxiety is a bitch.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. The introductions were warm and friendly, the conversation flowed, the laughter was frequent, and there were even some serious moments, as we inevitably touched on serious illness and fighting the evil that is cancer. So good was the conversation in fact, that we lost track of time and ended up missing the first couple of songs in the Maiden setlist including ‘Aces High’ and ‘Where Eagles Dare’. Damnit. But it was worth it and I have no regrets.
So, as we made our way to our seats, we were greeted by the final strains of ‘2 Minutes To Midnight’ which was quickly replaced by ‘The Clansman’. Ordinarily, this is not a favourite. But, as Nick remarked, hearing thousands of voices shouting ‘freedom’ at the top of their lungs gave the lengthy track a certain energy and magic that cannot be recreated on a studio recording. The grins that I exchanged with Nick reassured me that he was just as impressed as I was.
From then on, the ensuing 90+ minutes just flew by. There are times when my mind will wander at a gig these days as my back starts to ache from mild sciatica or because the sound is poor or simply because the band in question just doesn’t put on a very good show. On this occasion, however, I didn’t even notice my back, the mix was crystal clear and as usual, the sextet put on one hell of a show. If there is ever a band capable of transporting me back to my teenage self and reducing me to a grinning loon, it’s Iron Maiden. And that’s exactly what this gig did.
In fact, this was arguably the best gig that I have ever seen Iron Maiden deliver, and I’ve seen a few, from Metal 2000, to the ‘Somewhere Back In Time’ World Tour. Everything about this show was just perfect. For a start, the seats we had to the left of the stage as we looked at it, were the best I’ve ever had when watching Iron Maiden. The six icons were not just stick men or blurred images; they were real, discernible human beings, with facial features, hair and everything. I was even close enough to make out the West Ham logo on Steve Harris’ legendary bass guitar. But, for Maiden, I’m prepared to make these sacrifices!
As ‘The Trooper’ blasted into life, the already fully-engaged audience went absolutely crazy, a sea of energy and elation. The air crackled, the voices sung and the air-guitaring at every turn was boisterous. From an American’s point of view, apparently this was a far more engaged and exuberant crowd than you’d normally experience across the pond.
Two further things struck me at this point: firstly, I was amazed at just how tight the band still is. Admittedly they have had a few years’ practice but even so, the faithfulness of the rendition was impressive. And secondly, the energy from all six members was incredible. Following the birthday of Bruce Dickinson earlier in the week, the entire band is now aged over 60. And yet, there they were, giving it absolutely everything, covering the huge stage with ease. Janick Gers was his usual bonkers self, throwing his guitar around, fly-kicking and generally acting the fool. Even Adrian Smith, traditionally the most restrained of the sextet was keen to keep on the move and interact with the audience.
And then there was Bruce himself. Much has been written down the years about his live performances but tonight, he proved once again that he is a one-man force of nature. To be able to run around the stage, up and down stairs, waving huge flags and flame throwers, undertake about 15 costume changes and even engage in a sword fight with a giant Eddie whilst belting out the songs without missing a note is something that very few of us could ever achieve. And yet, here was the proof that it is possible. And I can’t help but love the guy.
As always with Iron Maiden, the visuals were superb. Fireworks, pyrotechnics, a different backdrop for nearly every track, 3D props including several incarnations of Eddie, a giant Spitfire, lanterns, chandeliers, two giant screens and much more – it all ensured that the show was a feast for the senses. On top of this, we were treated to those iconic and obligatory sights of Harris’ foot-on-monitor’ power stance, Sooty perched on Nicko McBrain’s drumkit and all four guitarists lined up together at the front of the stage, a spine-tingling sight for me personally.
All the props, fripperies and trademark Maiden-isms would count for nought however, if the music wasn’t up to standard. But Iron Maiden are the consummate pros and, as alluded to previously, any end-of-tour tiredness was extinguished and out came stellar renditions of classics, such as ‘Flight of Icarus’, ‘Revelations’ and ‘Iron Maiden’. Then there was the encore that featured ‘The Evil That Men Do’ as well as my favourite Maiden song of all-time – ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear this song, it just gets better and more magical every time. Throughout, Steve Harris’ bass rumbled and galloped with all the authority you’d expect, whilst the trio of guitarists, Dave Murray, Janick Gers and Adrian Smith never missed a note and their solos rang out beautifully. And the elder statesman, Nicko McBrain was simply a juggernaut behind his kit.
As the final notes of ‘Run To The Hills’ rang out, the crowd screamed and cheered as one. A giant bottle of ‘Trooper’ was opened on stage, whereupon the band toasted the fans, their crew and eventually took their bow. I was left breathless, elated and for one night only, I was 15 again. For that, I will be eternally grateful to Iron Maiden, a band that proved once again that they remain one of the best and most important heavy metal bands on the planet.
Massive thanks to Nick Van Dyk for the invitation to this incredible show. After navigating the terrible post-show traffic, we said our goodbyes outside Nick’s hotel and promised to try to meet up again before too long. I began the evening with a musical hero and ended it with a friend. Nights like this are what dreams are made of.
Setlist: Aces High, Where Eagles Dare, 2 Minutes To Midnight, The Clansman, The Trooper, Revelations, For The Greater Good of God, The Wicker Man, Sign Of The Cross, Flight of Icarus, Fear Of The Dark, The Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden. Encore: The Evil That Men Do, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Run To The Hills