As big as ever

There’s a big league in music, where those who have the songs and the stage presence to fill a stadium sit. That’s not to knock any band that can’t, but it takes a special kind of act to be able to pull such an event off. Iron Maiden are unquestionably one of UK music’s elites, believe it or not, the band that have been playing stadiums across the world, and headlining festivals in the UK for years finally graduated to make their British stadium debut this weekend, playing a monumental show at Twickenham in London.

“some people ask why Maiden are bigger now than we’ve ever been,” Bruce Dickinson remarked as this gig neared it’s close. “I’m stuck for words, but all I’d say is they should come to twickenham and see as this is why!”

Those that did go for a look who had never seen Maiden before, and there will be sections of the mainstream music press that covered this gig that wouldn’t otherwise have touched Iron maiden with a barge pole, will have found the metal legends at the very top of their game. Singers in bands often make outlandish, spur of the moment statements during gigs, but when Bruce Dickinson described this show as one of the best gigs he’d ever played, it didn’t lack sincerity one bit.

The current Iron Maiden world tour, as has become a trend with Maiden, has a theme. In the past they’ve only played tracks from the first four albums and performed recent release ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ in its entirety. This time round the setlist was almost exclusively from the eighties era of their back catalogue, with particular reference to their ‘Powerslave’ album and the subsequent world tour.

As is tradition round these parts, UFO’s ‘Doctor Doctor’ blasted out across the home of English rugby, announcing the arrival of Maiden to South West London. Footage of the Battle of Britain played on giant videos screens, before the band, with Bruce carrying a rugby ball, took to the stage and launched into ‘Aces High’ from ‘Power Slave’.

“Tonight we’re going to play songs from the past twenty-five years,” Bruce told the crowd. “Looking at those down the front some of you weren’t even born then.”

The following two hours was an onslaught of spectacular visuals, blinding piros and a setlist that couldn’t disappoint. ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’, ‘Revelations’ and ‘The Trooper’ appeared early on, with the touch paper properly lit for ‘Number of the Beast’ (literally as massive flames shot up into the sky) and ‘Can I Play With Madness’.

Then came the moment many had been waiting for. At Download last year Bruce hinted that the next tour would feature a song about mariners, and sure enough, as the first setlists emerged for this trek back in the early spring, the fourteen minute epic ‘Powerslave’ album closer was there. Complete with stage set design to look like a galleon and a lighting rig that creaked and swayed like a ship in a storm at the point in the song where the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is quoted from, Iron Maiden delivered the moment that showed why they’re one of the biggest bands in British music.

As the set drew to it’s climax, comparatively early because “the residents of Twickenham like to go to sleep”, ‘Run to the Hills’ and the newest track of the night, 1992 album title song ‘Fear of the Dark’ both appeared. It was left for ‘Iron Maiden’ to bring the main gig to it’s end, with a backdrop inspired by the ‘Powerslave’ album cover, a 3D, sphinx-like Eddie which opened up to show a mummified Eddie inside that had sparks shooting out from his eyes.

The band returned to the stage, with Bruce telling the crowd of their plans to record a new album once this tour is over. They then rounded off the night with two tracks from the ‘Seventh Son’ album, ‘Moonchild’ and ‘The Clairvoyant’, before the ever-present ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ rounded off the metal event of the year.

So the Maiden machine shows no sign of slowing down. In Bruce Dickinson they have one of the ultimate showmen, when he speaks an entire stadium falls silent, and during these spoken points of the show, although you’re one of tens of thousands, it feels like he’s talking in a room that holds just a handful.

Their back catalogue is revered to the point where they can create a tour concept and have the confidence to know that the fans will respect what they’re doing rather than bitch that a couple that might once in a blue moon be played on radio don’t make it into the setlist. Some bands fill arenas and stadiums or headline festivals and simply play a bunch of songs, which is absolutely fine providing the songs are of the stature for the surroundings. Iron Maiden don’t just turn up and play a load of songs, they deliver an experience few in the world will ever match.

The first time I reviewed Iron Maiden for Room Thirteen was the Reading Festival show where we got just songs from the first four albums. Although there was some overlap between that night and this, Saturday night can be viewed as a progression in the Maiden metal history lesson. I gave my one and only 13/13 then, and this was certainly on the same level, hence this show receiving only my second full mark score.

And the setlist in full was?

‘Aces High’ (‘Powerslave’)
‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ (‘Powerslave’)
‘Revelations’ (‘Piece of Mind’)
‘The Trooper’ (‘Piece of Mind’)
‘Wasted Years’ (‘Somewhere in Time’)
‘Number of the Beast’ (‘Number of the Beast’)
‘Can I Play With Madness’ (‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’)
‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ (‘Powerslave’)
‘Powerslave’ (‘Powerslave’)
‘Heaven Can Wait’ (‘Somewhere in Time’)
‘Run to the Hills’ (‘Number of the Beast’)
‘Fear of the Dark’ (‘Fear of the Dark’)
‘Iron Maiden’ (‘Iron Maiden’)
‘Moonchild’ (‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’)
‘The Clairvoyant’ (‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’)
‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ (‘Number of the Beast’)