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.