A tale of two set lists

"Actors waiting in the wings of Europe
we already watch the lights on the stage
and listen to the colossal overture begin.
For us entering at the height of the din
it will be hard to hear our thoughts, hard to gauge
how much our conduct owes to fear or fury.

Everyone, I suppose, will use these minutes
to look back, to hear music and recall
what we were doing and saying that year
during our last few months as people, near
the sucking mouth of the day that swallowed us all
into the stomach of a war. Now we are in it."

Keith Douglas (WW2 Poem)

Going to see Iron Maiden at Manchester's Evening News Arena last Thursday was a little like a call to battle. A propaganda parade, all brothers in heavy metal arms, as Iron Maiden took us through a trip of the horrors of modern war with their new album 'A Matter of Life and Death". We all know about the horrors of war, and if Tony Blair asked people to sign up to fight for their country most of them would tell him to 'go tuck himself in', but if Eddie and the boys asked that very same question? What the hell, we'd all want to sign up.

It took two hours to drive the eighteen miles to Manchester because of the horrendous traffic, yet even with my late arrival it was difficult to even walk around the outskirts of the Arena. The bogs had almost Alton Towers like snaked queues, and the merchandise stalls were doing a great business selling the usual excellently designed, albeit expensive, Maiden paraphernalia. As you can gather, the place was a sell out.

For those who are unaware, the new Iron Maiden album is about war. Maiden songs are regularly about war: 'The Trooper', 'Aces High', 'Two Minutes to Midnight' etc... But their new album in particular, with Eddie a top a tank on the cover, and the recurring themes in the songs, speaks volumes about their obsession with war (and its suitability as subject matter for heavy metal). To represent the idea of war, the large stage was adorned with sandbags, camouflage, barbed wire and even a man strung up by a parachute. Great aesthetics as usual from the Maiden camp, it really did seem like the boys were playing from the middle of no man's land as they crashed straight into 'Different World.'

Iron Maiden's set lists have always come in for a bashing over the years. This tour in particular has seen fans boycotting the tour altogether because of the band's decision to play the whole of the new album from start to finish. Certainly in the sold out Manchester Arena there was some mixed feelings, but the reaction of the crowd on the whole was very positive. I can certainly see the grievances and misgivings the fans have. Playing a 70+ minute album in a 90 minute set doesn't leave a lot of room for any other tracks, especially with the amount of fine songs Iron Maiden have in their locker. It all boils down to how much you like the new album, if, like myself, you think the new album is damn fine then seeing it performed live in it's entirety is quite a treat. If you're a stonewall fan of the classic material then you'll have your ass bored off for an hour and a quarter. Personally, I think it's time Iron Maiden realised that they have so many great songs that the only way to please everyone is to do the 'Evening With' scenario. I am sure every Maiden fan would agree with me when I say that the new album in its entirety for a first set, then a thirty minute break, then an hour and a half of classics to round off the night would have been the ideal solution.

The sound was messy at first, perhaps due to Adrian Smith's technical difficulties. By the awesome 'Brighter Than A Thousand Suns' the sound was perfect and made this track in particular more magnificent than it already is. Even the weaker songs from 'A Matter of Life and Death', 'Out Of The Shadows' and 'The Pilgrim' sounded great and a lot more powerful in a live environment. Although I couldn't help thinking about the people behind me who had sat down, obviously gagging for 'The Trooper'. Certainly from a Room Thirteen's point of view, reviewer Ben Blundell stated after his first experience of Iron Maiden "...No 'The Trooper', 'Number Of the Beast' or 'Run To The Hills,' which kinda makes me feel I haven't seen Iron Maiden." I can understand where he's coming from, and perhaps a point of view the Maiden camp never took under consultation.

For as well as the new album was received, the atmosphere completely changed when the opening notes of 'Fear of the Dark' were played. The place erupted, the vast crowd boiled over causing tidal waves of bodies to push and pulsate. 'Iron Maiden' followed with Eddie appearing in a tank above drummer Nicko's head; it was a disappointment however, when the song finished and the huge gun never fired. Three encores were played, 'Two Minutes To Midnight,' 'The Evil That Men do,' and 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'. Seeing the MEN packed to the rafters worshipping the classic material is a sight to behold, and a testament to the band's song writing class and hard work. But it was all too short, the evening ended and everyone trudged home aching for more classic Maiden but seemingly happy with what we'd been given. During the show Bruce hinted at playing in a field in summer next year, I'm sure wherever they go we'll all follow, they're just too damn good not to.