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!