Sunday, August 4, 2013

Gig review: Iron Maiden in London (O2 3/8/13)

Those of you who are devoted readers of my blog will have noticed that I haven’t written anything since the last Iron Maiden gig review in Paris. This is for 3 reasons: firstly, the gig was so amazing that the thought of not getting to see it again had me genuinely questioning some pretty fundamental things in my life. Secondly, when Iron Maiden announced at Donington that they would be playing these two gig sat the O2 nothing really seemed worth comment in comparison to the excitement and thirdly, summer is nice weather, don’t sit in front of a laptop. Go outside for goodness sake.

Now, I’m not going to just re-write the blow-by-blow and song-by-song account of this gig like I did for the Paris show in June, instead I wanted to give a flavour of the emotions I experience during the gig and the general feeling around it.

I arrived at the O2 around 4pm with my wife, who wasn’t coming this time. We walked around the venue and I rushed to the merch stand to buy my t-shirt, which unlike Paris was on sale to the general public and so I had spent much of the morning stressing that it would have been sold out, even more so when one appeared on ebay at 2pm with a first bid of £95. In the event I strolled up, put my £25 on the counter and walked off with my O2 t-shirt.

A few words about the t-shirt. Last time Maiden played two shows at the O2 in 2011 there was no special event shirt, much to my disappointment. This time because the gigs were announced after the start of the tour they don’t spear on the generic tour date t-shirts, so it was pretty obvious that one would appear.

T-shirt front
As you can see, Seventh Son Eddie coming out of the O2 with the usual baby trapped in his organ turning into London Bridge. It’s one of the only shirts from this tour which does not have the horse jumping over something (the other notable one being Paris). As with all Iron Maiden t-shirts the level of detail is what makes it special. Rather than leave out the yellow pylons where Eddie is coming out they have instead been dislodged, and of course carrying the Union flag for the only UK arena dates of this tour.

The back is the standard design from the rest of the tour with the specific dates (beware of imitation t-shirts without the dates on the back!). But to my recollection this is the first Iron Maiden t-shirt to feature the English flag alongside the Union flag. Though I'm happy to be corrected if anyone has any pictures.

So we grabbed some food and sat on the grass and soaked up the atmosphere. It was pretty clear from the people excitedly talking around us that this was going to be a pretty special evening. Gigs announced after the tour has started and especially at late notice are always special, there's a sense that because people didn't know they were going to get the chance to see the show, they are prepared to go even more wild.

At 6pm we met my father-in-law and two brothers-in-law who were also coming to the gig, and they changed into their (my) Iron Maiden t-shirts for what I think you will agree is a rather special shot together in front of the advertising billboard at the top of the tube station steps.
The Iron Maiden family is always growing
There were no paper tickets issued for the concert and has been some discussion beforehand about the trauma of trying to get in at previous venues where ticketless was in operation. So with some trepidation we walked around the outer ring of the O2 towards the queue, which had only been moving for around 50 minutes since doors opened. Far from chaos though, we walked straight through, handed the man our credit card and strolled in. I would advise anyone not desperate to get to the barrier not to bother with queueing up.

So, in the arena with about an hour to go before the support band came on, and to my surprise we managed to get around 20 metres from the stage. Those already in seems slightly subdued, but then London crowds are not known for being the most veracious of crowds. It didn't really seem to be filling up that quickly as it approached time for the support band, Voodoo Six as in Paris, the reserved seating especially enabling many to stay in the pubs and miss the warm-up.

They came, they underwhelmed, they went. The stage hands cleared away the equipment and it was as if they had never even appeared. The backing tracked played on, the end of each song greeted with a growing cheer as those who had clearly never been to a Maiden gig before thought they might make an early entry. Then, halfway through a song the backing tape fades out and the unmistakable chords of Dr Dr kick in. This is always a good test of a Maiden crowd. Do they know the song? Do they know what it means? The answer for the majority here is clearly no, but nonetheless it gets a pretty good reception.

As it ends and the lights go out I feel a big knot developing in my stomach. The tension that has been building throughout the day is about to reach it's climax. My calves go tight, my whole body stiffens as the classical music ends and the opening words of Moonchild are played on the screen. Then, lights come up, Nicko's beat takes over from the tape and the drum roll which signals the start of the gig for real.

The energy released in that first ten seconds always catches me off guard. The introduction of extra pyrotechnics for this tour means you can literally feel the heat of the flames as Maiden take the stage. Everyone surges forward, pushing with all they have into nothing, The people at the front try to push back and so begins the courtship of the Maiden pit which will go on for the next 105 minutes. Sometimes you'll slip past a sweaty body and find yourself closer to the stage, sometimes you'll feel the sweaty wet hair of someone as they dart past you.

Standing with me had been the aforementioned family members, only one of which had previously stood at a Maiden gig before. We managed to keep together for about 20 seconds of the first song but in the every-man-for-himself scramble I skipped past and joined the mayhem.

By the end of Can I Play With Madness I'm about three rows from the front and once putting my hands in the air can't put them back down again. The jumping and singing is relentless, my mouth is already dry halfway through The Prisoner as everyone screams the chorus. I never know where to look, should I be watching Bruce, or Steve, but then when there are guitar solos should I be watching whoever to shredding it up. I mainly watch Steve as he's positioning himself right in front of me, and then it happened, he looked my directly in the eye. Of course he didn't actually look me directly in the eye, but it seemed as if he did. He's on stage singing along to every word, and I'm in the pit, doing the same thing. That's the great thing about Iron Maiden, at the end of the day they're just ordinary guys like those of us who have come to watch.

The rest of the set gallops along at a pretty lively pace, with just the one pause for breath when Bruce welcomes everyone after 2 Minutes to Midnight but he does seem to be lacking his usual crowd interaction. Hopes were raised when he they could play all night because there was no curfew, unlike their former London haunts Earls Court, Brixton and Hammersmith and he did show his wicked sense of humour with the crowd when he said "we've got a few surprises tonight, but if you've been online you'll know what's coming. You never know, it may change. It won't change." And so everyone who had hoped to hear Infinite Dreams slouched back down and made a mental note to whine on the message boards in the morning.

The only song which seemed to have some people standing near me genuinely confused was Afraid to Shoot Strangers. Now granted it doesn't come from this era (nor does Fear of the Dark) but I would have thought if you're paying £60 for a ticket you are either a hardcore Iron Maiden fan or interested enough to investigate the material you may hear. Anyway, normality is restored with The Trooper, during which two people go down in the pit and have to fight their way back to their feet. There's no let up during The Number of the Beast so I decide it's time to make a tactical retreat a few rows to avoid ending up on my back.

Eddie's walk on cameo during Run to the Hills gets everyone back in full party mode before Adrian let rip with Wasted Years. It was part way through this song that it struck me that I would probably never see it performed live again after this tour. I didn't dwell on the thought for long but it did bring a tear to the eye.

The epic centre piece of the show is undoubtedly Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. The behind the stage Eddie, the snapping pyro, the long guitar solo. It seemed from where I was standing that the middle part was slightly quicker than it should have been, but no matter it was still immense. I was trying to stand still and take it all in. Remember the moments like these in your life, because they are all too fleeting and rare.

If Seventh Son feels like the part of the gig where the excitement roller coaster takes time out to reclimb the heights of earlier in the set, then after The Clairvoyant it goes over the edge at full speed from the first note of Fear of the Dark. No one cares that this wasn't played on the Maiden England set, in fact no one seems to care about anything as they go totally bonkers.

The first installment reaches its crescendo with Iron Maiden and the second behind the stage Eddie, who looks totally resplendent. There isn't long to catch your breath though before Churchill pipes up about fighting them in various locations and Aces High begins. The highlight for me is that Bruce appears wearing a airman's skull protector, which he lifts the flaps up when demanding a scream. It's a nice touch. He then has a little chat with it quoting Shakespeare to introduce The Evil That Men Do before Running Free brings things to a final conclusion for the night.

At the start of Running Free Bruce asks everyone to hold up their flags from where they have come from and reports back to the crowd that there are Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, German, Polish and Ecuadorians among us. I also know of Australians and Americans who have made the trip over just for these two concerts. It is a tribute to Maiden, the show they put on and the unquestioned adoration of the fans they lead around the world.

As the final pieces of stagewear are tossed into the audience (the guy in front of me tried to catch a sweatband and lost an iPhone, thin lines between success and failure) the long walk back to the tube begins. Even walking out with the others after being reunited at the mixing desk I can't really speak. It's not just that I have shouted myself hoarse for 2 hours, but I can't really believe what I have just seen. The band I have been devoted to for 15 years has just played possibly the gig that tops the previous 72 I've seen. I'm not sure what there is to say, just trying to soak in every single second of it. After tomorrow, it'll be gone from my life forever.

Three good signs of a Maiden gig for me, when leaving the O2 I was barely speaking above a rasping whisper, my legs ached and my arms were sore and I had to take off my tshirt to wring out a good deal of sweat before I put it back on for the journey home.

Overall, unless you haven't guessed, this gig was totally awesome. All the elements of Paris were there of course, but it just seemed to go beyond that. It's hard to put my finger on why, maybe it was the fact that the tour is over and the band know that after this they have a month off. Maybe it's the same for the fans who have been travelling round, no need to hold anything back after these dates.

The sound, oft discussed on the tour, was superb considering I was stood so close to the front. Steve's bass was like a little ringing bell, clear as anything in my ears, and the guitars were crisp and sharp. Bruce's voice, well it was as it always is, astounding. How these guys have the energy to do what they do for so many nights of the year I will never know. They put men half their age to shame.

It was also pretty satisfying that the three others I attended with all enjoyed themselves too. Special shout out to my 54 year-old father-in-law who started at the front before moving slightly back, ending the gig with a button ripped off his shirt, dirty trainers and trousers and being very sweaty.

Full set list

Can I play With Madness
The Prisoner
2 Minutes to Midnight
Afraid to Shoot Strangers
The Trooper
The Number of the Beast
Phantom of the Opera
Run to the Hills
Wasted Years
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
The Clairvoyant
Fear of the Dark
Iron Maiden
Churchill's Speech
Aces High
The Evil That Men Do
Running Free

So, that's it for now. But we'll go back and do it all again, for one last time this evening!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Gig review: Iron Maiden in Paris

Sometimes when you fall in love with someone, it’s hard to keep the initial warm fuzzy feeling once you get into the routine of everyday life. It takes a special moment or some time alone together to realise just how much affection you have for them, and at that point you wonder how you ever could live without them. On Wednesday in Paris I had just such a moment with Iron Maiden.

When I first got into Maiden when I was 12, I never dreamed this night would come. Bruce Dickinson wasn't the singer, they struggled to sell out the Brixton academy and the singer they did have struggled to sing the vast majority of the back catalogue. When Bruce re-joined with Adrian Smith in 1999 the band pledged not to become a cabaret act reliving the past, but the explosion in young fans has fuelled the market for "Best of" tours. Since 2003 the cycle has been best of, new album, best of, new album. 2008 was the obvious peak for the tours, the chance to see the 1984 World Slavery Tour in full action. No one dreamed that it would continue with the 1988 Seventh Son of a Seventh Son tour.

Before the current tour it had been a while since I had seen Maiden live, almost two years in fact, and I was starting to wonder if the magic would still be there. How stupid could I have been to even doubt it? The band gave one of the most energetic, vigorous and theatrical performances I have ever seen.

The gig in Paris is always a highlight of the European tour, both because it’s easy to get to so fans come from all over Europe, and because the venue itself, the Bercy Arena, is simply fantastic both for sound quality at atmosphere. Unlike any other venue I’ve been to, the seating area was full before the warm up band even took the stage and everyone was joyfully singing along to the songs being played over the PA. Incidentally, please change that tape Maiden, I’m pretty sure the first time I went to Bercy 10 years ago it was the same songs being played.

The appearance of the POP Bercy is as mystifying as it is breath-taking
The fun started before I even got into the hall though. Having had a quick nap in the hotel room I got to the venue about 17:30 (doors opening at 18:30) and headed straight to the merchandise stand to secure my special ‘I was there gig shirt’ so imagine my horror when there weren’t any there. I angrily trudged to the back of the queue, moaning to anyone who would listen about how annoying it was that there were no Bercy shirts, and that those on sale would be half price in the online shop by Christmas. Once inside the venue I wandered past the merch stand and there it was, the event shirt I had hoped for, only being sold inside the venue so that it was only available to ticket holders, a nice touch.

A few words on the shirt: this is without doubt the best concert specific tshirt I have ever seen (which is why I purchased a small, having sold out of mediums). The detail is spectacular and reflects the artwork of the period covered in the concert. Firstly, the fact that Eddie has stopped off for a snack halfway through the journey between the two venues and is having that French classic snails and frogs, lovingly skewered ready for the bonfire. Then in the clouds the Seventh Son album cover Eddie appears, and the branches in the top left strongly reminiscent of the tree from the Fear of the Dark album cover.

Tshirt front
Tshirt back

So on to the gig itself, in keeping with tradition of my gig reviews, and to appreciate the musicianship all involved, I start with a word about the support band, VooDoo Six: Awful.

There wasn’t much noticeable build up in the atmosphere after the support act had left the stage, because as I said it had been pretty good the whole way through. It was the usual 30 minutes between sets, and the stage carpentry team appeared to be taking some time to fix the side gangways which were pretty wobbly.

Standing immediately in front of me are 6 young French kids, perhaps 14 or 15, smoking the biggest joint you have ever seen. I don’t know where their mothers thought they were, or why you would spend 51 Euro on a ticket just to get stoned before the show. Anyway, in addition to being silly they are also lightweights, and about 5 minutes before Maiden came on one of them fell down, eyes rolled back in his head. He almost instantly got up, not appearing to know where he was before falling back down about 30 seconds later. Being the responsible Iron Maiden fan that I am, I neatly stepped over him, taking his position slightly nearer the stage and turned round to see some rather scared looking friends carrying him outside the arena. It is simply incomprehensible to me that anyone would put a friend before a Maiden gig.

After that excitement the strains of Iron Man gave way for the third time and there is a slight pause. The unmistakeable first chords of UFO’s Doctor Doctor kick in and the place literally erupts. The hairs on the back of my neck are standing up, I glance round to a young couple beside me, clearly their first Maiden gig as they don’t appear to have a clue what’s going on. As always the clapping and singing dies down after the first verse as everyone waits for the drum finale and the lights to go out.

The gig starts as always with the classical music introduction, but unlike the Final Frontier tour there is also a video, depicting ice falling into the sea at various points. It is of course much more technical than that but I couldn’t really take it all in at the time. It’ll be on the DVD I’m sure. The end of the video and the first acoustic chords of Moonchild signal the start of the gig. Like the last tour the opening song is split in two, the first part being played out on the screen with Bruce singing which would have pleased Michael Kenny who escaped the tricky keyboard opening.

A blast of fire rises from the 6 points on the stage and the band crash onto the stage, the energy in the room can only be compared to some kind of massive explosion. I’m standing 25 metres from the stage but feel the blast of heat from the pyro as the crowd surges forward. Moonchild is an amazing song, too rarely on the set list. It’s the perfect opening to the show with the energy from the first note and the raucous chorus being shouted by the majority of the 17000 inside the arena.

There is no time to pause for breath before Nicko is tishing his symbols to herald the start of the next song, unmistakably beginning with the shouted strains of “Can I Play with Madness”. It’s another rip-snorter of a sing-along and one which the entire audience seems to know, unlike Moonchild.  Next up back to the video screens for the intro to The Prisoner, which kicks off with the no nonsense drum section originally bashed out by Bruce Dickinson while the band were recording in Jersey. It’s the first time it’s featured in the set since the 1988 tour, and yet another chorus which begs to be sung at the loudest possible volume. The crowd oblige all too willingly “I’m not a numbeeeeeer, I’m a free maaaaaan”.

The gig is really warmed up now, the band are clearly having the time of their lives on stage and the atmosphere in the pit in insane. All spotlights turn to Adrian who takes the opening riff of Two Minutes to Midnight something he hasn’t done since leaving the band in 1989. A firm crowd favourite and set regular, it’s the first time that some serious partying breaks out on the floor, with people throwing themselves in just about every direction during the guitar solos. It’s also the first “Scream for me Bercy” of the night, which heralds near deafening results.

2 Minutes to Midnight Eddie has been frozen on his drape, possibly by the seventh son
The first (and only) speech from Bruce on the night, speaking fluent French I have no idea what he said, but it ended with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday being sung at Nicko who was teased about being the oldest member of the band. This meant there was no proper introduction to the next song, which is usually introduced as a song about the horrors of war. Interestingly Bruce does point out that the song is slightly outside the date range for the tour, being recorded in 1992, but none the less Afraid to Shoot Strangers is a welcome addition to the set.

I actually wrote to the band in 2003, before the first time I saw them at Bercy, and asked that as the second Gulf war was well underway the song be included in the set. It’s one of the most beautiful songs Maiden have ever recorded, containing both overt political sentiment, moody lyrics and rasping guitar solos. Bruce carries it off effortlessly as if they have been playing it on every tour for the last 20 years.

The next two songs race by in an orgy of unashamed tribal triumphalism. From the moment that the drape roles across for The Trooper the screams are deafening and the crowd sing the words to the first verse so loudly that it’s hard to hear Bruce on the stage. One slight disappointment during the guitar solo, since the reunion in 1999 it’s been customary for the three guitar players to stand on Bruce’s central wedges, but last night Adrian decided not to join them. Not that it detracted from the song, which was accompanied by the video for the song featuring the English and American Indians fighting in somewhat comic fashion.  It’s always a highlight of any gig when Bruce appears dressed in full Anglo-Russian War uniform waving around the battered Union Flag, and tonight is no exception.

No pause for breath before the lights go out again and we’re treated to the eerie reading of Revelation before the strains of The Number of the Beast kick in. As has become a feature of recent tours, a rather cute looking devil appears behind Janick on the left of the stage and breaths out smoke during the chorus, which is heartily chanted with hands in the air all round.

The pyro during Number of the Beast. Not too sure why the drape is Final Frontier Eddie though
Another flashback next as Bruce calmly announces The Phantom of the Opera to the crowd which is now in a state of near climaxing frenzy. This hasn’t been played live for 8 years and there are clearly  a few in the crowd who aren’t sure what’s happening but those who do know that this might be the last time they ever hear this song live, and they devour every second of it unapologetically.  
Attention turns back to the drums as the thumping intro accompanied by the drape of Eddie slaying the devil and Bruce’s cry of “You might f**king know this one” can only mean it’s time to Run to the Hills. There are plenty of Iron Maiden fans who think this songs time has been and gone but the reaction to it played live is spine-tingling. It was also the appearance of the walk-on Eddie, unusual for it to be in such a short song. Also unusual for the song to be in the body of the set, having been until 2008 the finale of the encore.

A blurry shot of the Run to the Hills drape

An even blurrier shot of the waking Eddie during Run to the Hills

There is always something of a lull in the crowd after the walk-on Eddie leaves the stage as people scrabble to get their phones back in their pockets having been taking pictures. There was just no time for that though as Dave Murray's guitar screams out the first chords of Wasted Years, another song which can only be described as a crowd-sing-a-long-favourite. The standing section becomes on throbbing mass as the chorus it belted out from lungs becoming ever more hoarse thanks to the total lack of respite this set affords them. Wasted Years didn't feature in a Maiden set between 1999 and 2008, I wouldn't complain if it was played every night until they retire. 

Every Iron Maiden set has one epic song, the one that you just stand with your chin on the floor at the musicianship, the audacity that they think they can pull it off live, and the ecstasy that they so effortlessly do it. On the Dance of Death tour it was Paschendale, the A Matter of Life and Death tour was For the Greater Good of God and last time round it was When the Wild Wind Blows. On this tour it's the song most fans has not dared to dream they would play, the title song from what many fans believe is the peak of Iron Maiden's musical powers, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. The live performance of the song isn't just incredible because Bruce can keep up with the constant demands it places on his voice, or even that the guitars and bass somehow hold together for the 5 minute plus instrumental at the end. It's that all these things come together and the theatrics mean that you can't take your eyes of the stage.

Mystic Eddie with a crystal ball. No body saw this coming

Steve and Bruce during Seventh Son, behind the stage Eddie looks serious
The rising from the back of the stage Eddie always appears during Iron Maiden as the drum solo starts, so it was a shock to see him coming up in the heart of the set. It's the Eddie from The Clairvoyant artwork, scribbling something he's seen in his crystal ball, and he stayed up for the entire song. Spectacular isn't the word for this song, snapping cracking pyro throughout, large Eddie and perfect musicianship.

No sooner had Eddie gone down behind the stage but his song started, Steve Harris emerged from the smoke to play the only bass intro on any Maiden song, which can only be described by the millions who have stood in their living rooms, leg raised on the sofa in the Harris style, as "ch-ch-chung ch-chung, ch-ch-ch-chung, ch-chung, ch-ch-ch-ch-chung" repeated a few times before the guitars roar in to join the action. The Clairvoyant drape rolls across the stage before Bruce has belted out the first line. The audience, sweating and near exhaustion bounce as one from front to back.

The main part of the set is now reaching complete and utter fever pitch and Bruce walks up the stage above the drum riser and huskily says the four words which cause utter bedlam "Fear of the Dark". Played on every tour since 1992 and the traditional penultimate song of the show, the fans sing and shout, orchestrated by Bruce from the stage as the "wooooah wooooooah ooooh ooh" of the intro guitars are matched syllable for syllable. By the time Bruce has given his last "Fear of the dark, your turn" the screams coming back are full of the tension of a spring which has been wound far too tightly, and as the grungy instrumental section kicks in it's as if an atom bomb has exploded in the room. The energy is maintained through to the very end as Bruce disappears from whence he came.

Behind the stage the inevitable "Scream for me Bercy" which heralds the start of the last song of the set, Iron Maiden. Every last drop of gusto is mustered for the rousing chorus "Oh, well, wherever, wherever you are, Iron Maidens gonna get you, no matter how far". The drum solo seems to be missing a little of it's usual anticipation as everyone has already seen Eddie, but then a head starts to emerge from the back of the stage. Surely it can't be, can it? It is, it really is you know. Eddie is back, it's a different back of the stage Eddie. The Eddie from the cover of the Seventh Son album, complete with tormented unborn child in his palm. This is the undoubted highlight of the show.

Second behind the stage Eddie during Iron Maiden. Complete with pyro, screaming Steve Harris and Bruce doing some kind of country dancing.
The band leaves the stage and the crowd breaths a collective sigh of relief. There are about two minutes before the action gets underway again, and as the lights go back out another deep breath is taken. Having gone over the edge of the rollercoaster 90 minutes earlier, another steep drop is coming with the encore.

The unmistakable drape of Eddie in his Spitfire, gunning for everything in sight rolls across the stage and the screens switch to Winston Churchill giving the immortal "Fight on the beaches" speech. The video continues with Hitler and Second World War graphics and Aces High starts. Normally the opening song of the night, it brings the crowd immediately back to fever pitch. Every song so far has had a chorus that any other band would give their entire back catalogue to have and this one is no exception. For many of those in the audience it's the first time they've heard this song live. A moment they'll never forget.

Most people know how things go from here, but they're in for a shock as The Evil That Men Do gets underway. Bruce even introduces it with the correct quote from Shakespeare "The evil that men do lives on, the good they do is oft interred with their bones". Romping guitars, galloping bassline, bombastic lyrics, this song is the 1980s in 3 minutes.

Finally, the unmistakable drum intro to Running Free begins, and everyone knows this is the last song of the night and they're determined to leave nothing in their energy reserves. Every cry of "I'm Running Free" are answered from the floor with interest. Each member of the band is introduced to the kind of roar you only read about in books. Steve Harris, Janick Gers, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and finally Nicko McBrain, each one the favourite of someone in the crowd, each one loved by everyone here.

The band don't want to leave after the last song, that's clear to see. There have been pauses for crowd chanting at various points and the cries of "Maiden, Maiden, Maiden" are just as loud at the end as they were at the beginning. Even as Always Look on the Bright Side of life break through the PA system no body wants to leave, to tear themselves away from the scene of a gig which will go down in Iron Maiden folklore. We'll be telling our grandkids about this night.
Could it have been a better night? Perhaps in one way. It would have been great to see Infinite Dreams included in the set, as it was in 1988, and maybe Killers too. But the recreation of the Maiden England DVD, the set and the stage production go far beyond what was achieved in 1988. Maiden have once again taken the bar for performance and rock theatre and raised it to a point that no other band would ever dream of obtaining.

Full set list

Can I play With Madness
The Prisoner
2 Minutes to Midnight
Afraid to Shoot Strangers
The Trooper
The Number of the Beast
Phantom of the Opera
Run to the Hills
Wasted Years
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
The Clairvoyant
Fear of the Dark
Iron Maiden
Churchill's Speech
Aces High
The Evil That Men Do
Running Free

Some other interesting observations and points from the show


This is the first time Maiden have ever used three Eddies during a show rather than the standard two. The walk on Eddie during Run to the Hills is still the blue coated American soldier General Custer brandishing the sword from last year (I don’t see the connection myself) but having not had a walk-on Eddie in 1988 I guess it had to be something. The first Eddie coming out of the back of the stage during Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is a work of sheer brilliance, the detail including the foetus in the crystal ball isn’t immediately visible from the floor but on the screens it is. The best was definitely still to come though as during Iron Maiden the second behind stage Eddie comes up, an 3D construction of the Seventh Son album cover complete with the baby in Eddie’s hand fighting to be freed. I wasn’t entirely sure if it was computerised or a member of the tour crew, I think the former sadly. Every tour in 2003 the rising Eddies behind the stage have got better and better, but this one in particular is going to take some beating.


You would think that it’s easy to have the time of your life on stage with 17000 effectively worshipping you, but there have been a few shows I’ve been to where more than one member of the band didn’t look like they wanted to be there. Not this gig though, they were all clearly having the time of their lives. Steve and Bruce were running around like mad things and the three guitarists looked totally in the grove from the first second of the show. Bruce even had the energy to chase Nicko round the stage afterwards trying to pull down his shorts. Thank goodness he never caught up with him.


There have been some complaints on the Fan Club in the aftermath that the gig was a bit murky when it came to sound. I certainly didn’t get any of that from where I was, centre of the floor about 15 rows from the front. There were issues during the first couple of songs with Bruce’s levels, but that’s normal and it was certainly nothing like Manchester in 2011 when Bruce stormed off stage during the first song, so bad was he sounding. The guitars were crisp and the bass was crystal clear.


There wasn’t any pyro on the 2010 Final Frontier tour, and there has only ever been limited pyro at Maiden gigs. They seem to have made a conscious decision to go for it this tour though, with the spouts of fire when they first came on stage, and during other songs and the sparking crackers during plenty of others, this is a stage show that could comfortably been viewed from the back of a stadium crowd.


The place was sold out within weeks of the tickets going on sale last year, which is why I was so surprised they didn’t add a second show. As I mentioned above the crowd were on top form, a couple of the usual idiots smoking weed, but the singing and camaraderie were, as always at Bercy, out of this world. One point, a couple of people got arsey with me for jumping and singing. Listen, if you want to stand there in silence take a CD round your nans house, this is a gig, I’m going to jump and sing.


Always a million times better than the screens which dominate large concerts these days, the drapes on this tour are the best I have ever seen. Not only because there is a new one for almost every song but there are ones here which haven’t been seen for years, and also the details the reflect the artwork of both the Seventh Son album and the accompanying singles, which were without doubt a high-point in Maiden artwork which has not, and will never be equalled.

Can I Play With Madness artwork

The Evil That Men Do artwork
The Clairvoyant artwork

Geek corner

·        Bruce mentioned the fact that Afraid to Shoot Strangers wasn’t strictly within the time frame of the tour, but made no remarks about Fear of the Dark which is from the same album.
Dave Murray has had a haircut in the last few days. Last night he appeared to have had his hair straightened.
This is the first time I have ever heard Bruce sing the correct lyrics to The Evil That Men Do usually singing “I would cry for her/If only I could learn” instead of the actual lyrics “Don’t you cry for me/Beyond is where I learn”

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Book Review: The Fear Index

I've had this book on my shelf to read for over a year, since having it given it to me as a Christmas present. I was so desperate to read it I even got the hard back, rather than wait for the paperback to be released. But then I couldn't quite bring myself to actually read it. I had enjoyed Robert Harris' other books so much, especially Archangel that I wanted to keep this as one to look forward to, rather than read it.

But after struggling through some pretty average offerings from James Craig in the past few weeks, I couldn't delay any longer. As I replaced the book on the bookcase after finishing reading it I had two thoughts. Firstly, why didn't I read this the day it was given to me, and who can I give this to next so that we can compare notes on how awesome it it.

The basic premise of the book is Alex Hoffman, physicist and social loner has created a computer programme which helps bypass the human elements of trying to make money on the stock markets. However it quickly becomes apparent that the programme is going a little beyond its original plan, with consequences that I didn't see coming at all.

Like Harris' historical fiction, Imperium and Lustrum, this book doesn't claim to be based on a real story, but it never feels like it is a work of science-fiction. Throughout the book I found myself thinking 'This could actually happen'. I think that is one of the most chilling aspects of it.

There is enough technical information in the book to lead those who are completely feckless when it comes to computers to believe that everything has been thoroughly researched but without going into the kind of over the top detail you might find in  Tom Clancy book which leaves me glazing over about the capabilities of tanks and ranges of bullets.

There is a point in every good book where you simply can't put it down and have to keep going until you finish reading. That moment in Fear Index was around page 150 for me, just over halfway through. Luckily it came about on the weekend so there was no problem. There are enough twists to keep you guessing but not so many that they become tiresome.

If you like Robert Harris, you've probably already read this book, but if you haven't then you really should, it's a masterpiece. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book review: The Circus

Those of you who have read my previous book reviews will know that although I started off loving James Craig’s work, especially his first book London Calling, I have recently started to lose interest. I downloaded his latest offering The Circus partly as a last chance and partly because I feel some kind of loyalty to the main character.

One of the main appeals of the Carlyle series has been the clear influence of real events. In the first book there were two brothers vying for the leadership of the country, albeit not in the Labour Party and trying to cover up murders as they went. The second book deviated slightly but still had references to the London riots of 2011 and more historically the miner’s strike of 1984. The next instalment, Buckingham Palace Blues tackled an issue too often swept under the carpet, child trafficking, although in featuring a member of the Royal Family I don’t think it was too close to reality.

The Circus has taken the idea of using contemporary events to influence the fiction and really run away with it. In the middle of a crisis involving a Sunday newspaper hacking the mobile phones of celebrities, the political establishment attempt to interfere in the investigation to avoid making their own relationship with the media public. In the midst of this a teenage girl disappears from her family home, but the police are not too concerned as they know she has still been checking her voice mails (who else is now groaning). It gets worse, when I read that the ex-Eton educated Prime Minister was caught riding the horse of a newspaper editor which actually belonged to the Met I stopped reading for a while. 

Overall I never really decided whether the book is entirely satirical and therefore probably quite clever, or whether Craig has run out of ideas and therefore just writes what he sees on the news and changes the names. 

The most annoying aspect of the book is undoubtedly how rushed it feels. With 10 pages left there are still a fair few serious threads from the story to be tied up, but rather than taking time to finish the book properly or even carry some plot lines through to the next book everything came together in such a hurry. This is the second book in a row where one of the main players in the story suffers from a severe medical emergency, and this time Carlyle even says “That’s convenient” which is largely what I imagine Craig’s editor said when he got the manuscript to her on time.

James Craig was obviously in a rush to get this book out before the Carlyle bubble bursts, but producing sub-standard work is just speeding up that event. The next instalment doesn’t come out until September, so hopefully the longer break will lead to a stronger book. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Washington Nationals v Chicago White Sox preview

The background

It's been a funny start to the season for Washington. Many people expect them to win more games than any team in the National League, and almost as many think they'll win the World Series (I have a healthy pessimism borne from watching Ipswich Town as well as the Nats, I don't think anything until it happens). They started off against the worst team in their division by a mile, and promptly swept the Miami Marlins 3-0 at home. Although they made light work of the Fish, shutting them out for the first two games, they never really looked that comfortable on the offence, except Bryce Harper who is already awesome.

The weekend series in Cincinnati brought us back down to earth as Dan Haren got beaten up on Friday night and Stephen Strasburg took more of a beating than usual on Sunday as the Nats dropped 2 of 3 in the Great American (Sm)Ball Park (silent B, it works).

So we come back to Nationals Park for the first taste of interleague action and the first series with the other good team in the National League East. This will be the first time that that Chicago White Sox have provided the opposition since June 2011, when wins from Collin Balester and Livan Hernandez recorded the wins as the Nats took 2 out of 3. The game they lost in that series will be repeated tonight as Jake Peavy goes against Gio Gonzalez.  

The pitchers

Gio had a pretty good outing first time round when he faced the Marlins. He tossed 91 pitches over 6 innings giving up 2 hits, walking 2 and striking out 5. The only problem continues to be his command, especially of his fastball, as he threw just 55 of his pitches for strikes. He then helped his own cause with a solo Home Run.

Zimmermann looked impressive in the final game against the Marlins, although he was the only pitcher to concede a run as Justin Ruggiano took him deep in the second inning. Zimmermann threw 89 pitches in his 6 innings with 60 for strikes as he allowed 8 hits, and walked 2 while striking out just 1.

Haren had by far the worst debut of the rotation, as he was chased from the game in Cincinnati after just 4 innings and he threw 78 pitches (58 for strikes) giving up 6 runs, all earned on 9 hits, 4 of them homers and striking out 5. About the only nice thing to say is that he didn’t walk anyone. Zach Duke and Henry Rodriguez also got pounded during the 15-0 loss though.

The keys

·         Get the offence going – even when winning their first 3 home games of the year the Nats failed to really get any offence going. If they can get on the board early and often, without relying on Harper, they’ll be in business.
·         Get the easy outs – Ian Desmond punted a couple of times during the loss against the Reds on Sunday, and you can’t afford to let people get on base, especially with Zimmermann and Haren on the mound.
·         Keep Bryce hot – the 20 year-old wonderkid is 9-25 so far this year (.360) with 3 Home Runs. Every time he goes to the plate at the minute you expect him to score. He needs to keep that going until the others can catch him up.
·         Seal the deal – on Saturday the Nats gave up four runs over the 8th and 9th innings to take themselves into extra innings before getting the win. Again on Sunday when they were on top they let it slip to lose 6-3.

The stats

Because this is an interleague game, there are naturally not many previous encounters to draw on, so the sample sizes for all are small. But for what it’s worth, here are the White Sox numbers against the 3 Nats pitchers pencilled to go this week.

Gio Gonzalez (Tuesday)
Jordan Zimmermann (Wednesday
Dan Haren (Thursday)
Tyler Flowers
0-2, K
Paul Konerko
1-12, 3BB, 4K
7-19, HR, 3K
Gordon Beckham
1-4, BB
1-3, K
0-7, 2K
Alexi Ramirez
3-11, 3BB, K
Jeff Keppinger
8-16, 2x2B, HR, 2BB
Dayan Viciedo
0-3, 2K
0-4, K
Alejandro De Aza
1-6, K
Alex Rios
3-15, BB, 3K
6-20, HR, BB, 3K
Adam Dun
0-1, BB
0-3, 2K
2-15, HR, 2BB, 7K

And here are the Nats batters numbers against the 3 White Sox due to go. The two which are closest to being worthy of attention here are Denard Span who bats a shade under .500 against Gavin Floyd and Chad Tracy who bats .200 in 50 trips against Peavy, with 7 of those hits going for extra bases. This will be the first time that any of the Nats batters have seen Dylan Axelrod as he starts his third year.

Jake Peavy (Tuesday)
Gavin Floyd (Wednesday)
Dylan Axelrod (Thursday)
Denard Span
5-17, 4x2B
17-35, 2B, 3B, 7BB, 3K
Jayson Werth
2-13, 7K
Bryce Harper
Ryan Zimmerman
3-15, 2x2B
1-6, 2K
Adam LaRoche
4-11, HR, 3BB, 4K
2-8, 2B, HR, 3BB, 2K
Ian Desmond
2-4, 2K
Danny Espinosa
0-1, K
Kurt Suzuki
1-10, 2BB, 3K
Wilson Ramos
Chad Tracy
10-50 3x2B, 3B, 2HR, 3BB, 16K