Iron Maiden / Halford

Birmingham NEC

November 4 2000

I hate the NEC. I think that every time I've been there (thankfully not many), I say the same thing. I hate it. I hate arenas. Even thought I had a standing ticket (nah, it was paper actually, but on there it said I could stand) and so went as close down to the front as I wanted, I still hate these monolithic buildings. There's no soul here. And although I was down the front, it really made me think. Bands like to play arenas yeah? But they like to be able to "connect" with the crowd yeah? But can you honestly tell me ifyou be a fan that if you're at the back of the venue that you really feel like you belong and are part of it. Straining to see and hear. You're there physically, but are you really there. And the bands, they make the extravegant gestures with the arms, the gurning faces looking like they've just spotted a long lost friend in the crowd "y'allright mate. Long time no see. Can't stop to talk, in the middle of a gig, yeah man, nice to see you again". I mean, do those gestures really go back anything over half way? And if they don't, then surely the whole connection, from both band and fans, is lost, and thus there is no reason for bands to play these venues. Apart of course from logistics and there more real truth that boy, it must be so much better for the ego to play to 10,000 people than 2,000.

Halford is back home, "it's been a long time but I'm back again to make things right" he says at one point. And he's prowling the stage, cupping his hand to his ear, pointing a person in the crowd (who so happens to be no more than 20 rows back each time) and nods his appreciation. Behind him his band are a little pedestrian going through the music. The one guitarist prowls, swinging his head round and reminding me for some reason of the gargoyle like creatures on the old Sinbad movies. There's nod backs to Priest with Stained Class, Breaking the Law and Electric Eye, each of which get a few people jumping and praising the heavens. The new material is more modern almost power metal, and although the Metal God himself may have expressed his pleasure, it didn't really feel like it was a mutual thing. I expected the guy to get a slightly better response than he did.

Ah, Maiden. For me, they are legends. And it's quite satisfying to look around and see what I think must be a sold out NEC for them. It's "old skool" I guess (pass the bucket, thanks!), and it's nice to see it can still do it. Though there's a fair number of youngster here, and people who are now parents and have brought the kids complete with oversized Monsters of Rock '84 t-shirts. Me, I take pleasure in wearing the old Sick of it All top. Hmm, maybe I should dig out an old Maiden shirt for the next SOIA gig. The lights go down, the album cover backdrop is unfurled, the classical music intro builds, and then Adrian appears to crank out (yeah, a crank out this early in the review, weyhey!!) the opening riff to Wicker Man. And then the rest of the band gatecrash the stage to a line of flashbombs. Dickinson sounds crap. No really, opening song, getting the levels and all that, but the voice sounds dodgy. But no matter, as Steve Harris darts across the stage, and there's no better sight in metal, than the bass man himself, darting here and there, hair flying behind, bass ready to kill. It's just so very reassuring. As Wicker Man ends, we're taken on a ride with the Ghost of Navigators, the city of lights descending closer to the stage throwing out a suitable level of blues and greens, and Dickinson has recovered the voice. As have many around me. One of the good (and bad) things about a Maiden gig as that everyone is singing along (trust me, that can be a baaaaaad thing), even on the newer material.

Now, in the past I've gotten myself into a teensy weensy bit of trouble because in these here reviews, I write what I see and hear, and sometimes give my unwanted opinion. And I'm going to do it again. Remembering that this time it's about a band that I give a damn about, that I think are legends and that many of todays bands are not fit to lace the boots of. But that doesn't blinker me from the fact that if I have an opinion, I'm entitled to it. Before Brave New World starts up, Bruce has something to say. Once again an idiot has thrown a bottle at the stage, and the Brucemesiter is a pissed off man. "Someone's just thrown this. The stages gets slippery and we're trying to work here. Someone can fall break their arms and some cunts had a great day you fucker. And you've not even finished it, which at about 10 quid a pint makes you even more of a wanker in my opinion." Which is all fair and good, but (and didn't you just know there was going to be a but), but, the last few times I've seen Bruce he's really gone off on one at similar points in a show. He didn't seem to years ago, he seems a little more aggressive, tetchy now. And the suspicious bit of me thinks how this is always a great way to gee up a crowd and get them on your side.

But back at the show, and I'm not sure how the stage at the front is set up, but it's almost like it's a skate park without the skate board. Bruce and Janick in particular head down from the drumrise and then wooosh into the air, legs akimbo before they land. Don't know if they're jumping off the monitors or whether they've really got some kind of ramp there. But you don't see the younger bands doing it much. You don't see many bands expending the kind of energy Maiden do, for me it's one of the things that makes them stand out from all their peers. Bruce is up on the walkaway around the back of the drums, swinging down on part of the set and then back up (you keep thinking he's not going to make it) and generally running round like a man possessed.

The Trooper and Wrathchild elicite predictably rapturous responses, adults who should know better jumping up and down punching the air, ah fuck it, why should they know better. If the music moves you, then just let it do it's thang.

There's the talk from Bruce about the sceptics when the current line up came together, those who thought it was a going through the motions. "There's three words why we got back together. We love it. This isn't some bullshit reunion or greatest hits thing, we're looking to take Maiden into the future and there will be a new album. That's why we're not playing it safe." It's rather predictable bluster from the man, but hey, he's right, and though I would rather them play the wonderous Thin Line Between Love and Hate as opposed to sign of the Cross or the Clansman, if they're happy doing them, then why shouldn't they. Though SOFTC does get a bit bogged down in it's own desire to be adventurous, and the rising Bruce on the cross is a Total Metal Moment (tm). Bet that went down well in Middle America. Likewise getting the crowd to sing on The Clansman is a brave move, but they do it and they pull it off.

There's also another major rant at the start of Blood Brothers. About "journalists". "Professionals in the same sense as prostitutes regards themselves as professionals. Like say the editor of, ooooh, say Q magazine. We've been on tour in the States, and they wanted to do an interview. So we thought, ok, why not. Took this four eyed cunt out on tour for 2 days, gave him food and all that, and then he manipulates and rearranges words and says things like, "you're ugly and have no talent, why don't you give up and stop being so greedy." If someone said that to you in the pub, you'd stick one on him, but in this it's all lovey dovey touchy feely. Well fuck it, if I see him around, I will stick one on him". Ah yes, Bruce really has been fired up these last few years. Wonder how many extra copies of Q that will sell, cos I for one am extremely curious about this interview.

Dream Of Mirrors is the last of the new songs, and then it's romps through the likes of Fear Of The Dark and Two Minutes to Midnight. Eddie of course makes some appearances, having a joust with Jannick and then the wicker Eddie complete with virgins accosting the Dickinson, and there's really something quite ludicrously special about 10,000 people chanting the name of a mascot. Iron Maiden ends it, that riff and driving beat sounding fresh even now. And they've done about 1 1/2 hours with barely a pause for breath. And no boredom. How many bands these days can or do that. Most will do an hour if your lucky, and you'll find yourself looking at your watch. But nope, Maiden gallop through, and the pause for the encore is an absolute minimum before there's Number of the Beast, Hallowed Be Thy Name and Sanctuary, complete with it's promise to return soon ends it all. Best part of 2 hours. Superb entertainment, and a performance that shows that a lot of the new blood may be able to talk the talk, but when it comes down to the real importance, the music and the show, there really is just about no one better.