April 11, 2016 Iron Maiden Make History At Madison Square Garden, NYC 3-30-16
There are concerts and then there are life-events. When Iron Maiden rolls into town, as they did on Wednesday, March 30th, 2016, time stands still for their legions of devoted fans. It has been four long years since Iron Maiden played the New York City area, six since they last visited Madison Square Garden. To the untrained eye, it might have been just another late afternoon in bustling Manhattan, but as the setting sun cast her rays upon the steel gray towers of the mighty, a horde of people emerged from out of the rushing taxi cabs and hustling commuter traffic that comprises Midtown. Slowly closing in on 34th and 7th, they were of every age, creed, and background, but there was one thing that unified them. One thing that distinguished them from the suits and the uniforms flooding the streets, cleaving them from the everyday as surely as Ed Force One stands apart from all the other aircraft in any given airport hangar. Be it patches on jackets, t-shirts, jerseys, or even poster flags, one and all bore that most famous of logos, complete with undying, undead mascot Eddie leering out from beneath the words “Iron Maiden.” Like a call to arms, virtually no other band unites and elevates their fanbase quite like this.
Entering Madison Square Garden with chants, laughter, and a buzz of excitement, fans brought with them an even greater sense of gratitude and happiness. Since last Maiden was here, beloved singer Bruce Dickinson battled and defeated throat cancer, holding aside treatment until they finished cutting their sixteenth studio album, Book of Souls. Now here in support of this magnum opus, fans could be doubly in awe of Maiden’s singer, who not only beat cancer but also happens to fly his own band all around the damn world in the process.
Opening up the night was The Raven Age, the band of founding bass player Steve Harris’ son George. The hard rocking youngsters handled the crowd with the energy one would expect, no doubt winning a healthy number of new fans as a result of their performance. By the time the cavernous Garden went dark for the headliners, not an empty seat remained anywhere in the oft-referred to “world’s most famous arena.” Iron Maiden, a six-piece since reforming with Dickinson in 1999, are great at many things, one of which is most certainly the moment they take the stage.
A Mayan backdrop of monolithic, forested temple walls set the tone for the theme of Book of Souls, with Dickinson launching into an especially echoing vocal intro to “If Eternity Should Fail.” He stood alone atop the stage set, gazing into a smoke-filled basin wearing a black hood while flames jetted across the top of the wall. As the tension broke, the rest of the band emerged from behind cover, bursts of flame reaching high as the boys ran to the front of the stage. The answering roar from the crowd rivaled any power play goal or three-pointer against the shot clock that typically rocks this building. The heroes had returned, and their masses were ready. Grand entrances are Maiden’s thing, and 40 years into their career, they still come out roaring. When they moved right into album single “Speed of Light,” the buzz remained high. The new album has been largely embraced by the faithful, and here in the live setting, one needed no further proof that the flame of Iron Maiden burns as brightly as it did when they were storming stages to Churchill’s speech, or to the explosive opening salvo of “Moonchild.”
After the one-two punch, Dickinson quipped with the crowd, pointing to faces both familiar and new. He looked vital, refreshed, and thrilled to be back in the Big Apple. When he told the crowd they were all children . . . of the damned, long-time fans were treated to the first classic of the evening. Not a typical set-list choice, this one caused a pulse of excitement to blow through the seething crowd. Some fans cheered knowingly, as set lists these days are available at the touch of a button. Others surely did their best to avoid such spoilers, wanting to be surprised instead. “Children of the Damned” sounded hungry, vivacious, and dominant, with plenty of lip-syncing from Steve Harris, along with harmonizing guitar leads from Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Gers. When the song begins to transition from ballad to stormer, Dickinson asked for hands from the crowd. Hands is what he got. The leads toward the end rang out, and the crowd could have collectively died from pure happiness. The ‘whoa-oh-oh’ chants at the end would not be the last ones this stoked crowd would bellow.
Speaking of set lists, there had been complaints out there in the ether about the set, but its funny how no one like that seems to be around when the band is playing and the venue is rocking. Iron Maiden has never been afraid to be liberal with playing new songs live. It is partly this attitude and partly the quality of their material which has saved them from becoming a nostalgia act. When the band played “Tears of a Clown” and “The Red and the Black” off their latest album, the crowd remained just as engaged. The former song, Dickinson introduced by way of imparting that he had walked past the Juilliard school earlier while sightseeing near Central Park. Attended by the late great Robin Williams, it added a touching personal insight into the band’s respect for the lost comedic genius. The rocking opening to the latter song was greeted with as much enthusiasm as any classic era Maiden song. If further proof is needed that the band still has ‘”it,” one might run out of luck finding such affirmation.
Of course, it would be a lie to say the roar for “The Trooper” was not just a tad bit more fervent. Iron Maiden know what they are doing, and they know when to drop in a classic song, in this case from 1983’s Piece of Mind album. Dickinson donned his British army coat, bright red, and waved the Union Jack beside a massive backdrop of the famous Eddie from the “Trooper” single. Many a chill went up many a spine in those moments. The world could have lost that iconic scene, and that was not lost on this deliriously ecstatic crowd.
“Powerslave” got aired out next, and with this stone-cold classic, fans knew they had gotten themselves wrapped up in quite a special night indeed. With that, Maiden played their last clutch of new songs, the lengthy but engaging duo of “Death or Glory” and the title track. The long guitar runs and lead trade-offs of the latter ensured its ten minute span floated by the rapt crowd. The former, as sort of a step-son in style to “Aces High,” had panache and punch to it, the backing vocal by Adrian Smith giving a little bit of raucous bottom-end to Dickinson’s soaring vocal.
Dickinson’s banter with the crowd was warm and endearing as usual. He quipped that his back and forth with fans had been interrupted by “a whole load of music.” He deprecated his homeland, extolling the warmth of Americans compared with his own British people. Empires rising and falling, the dangerous belligerence of the geopolitical landscape, and the simplistic relationship of people just being decent to each other, were all addressed. The crowd concurred with a steady roar, as the magic of the night made every face glow. Laughs abounded when he hinted that Donald Trump may have been responsible for the fall of the Mayan empire.
The final trio of songs, “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” “Fear of the Dark,” and “Iron Maiden,” were the kind of Iron Maiden staples no show goes without. Dickinson’s voice remained steely and strong throughout. He pulled the crowd into a frenzy at the end of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” with his enthusiastic flair for the dramatic. The crowd participation during “Fear of the Dark” was a wonderful thing to behold, while the giant Eddie that stormed the stage during “Iron Maiden” looked more realistic and bad-ass than perhaps ever before. Janick Gers fought with him, but not as exuberantly as in years past. Perhaps he was a bit intimidated by this new and improved mascot. The band members had smiles upon their faces more often than not, showing how much they truly love being on stage delivering beloved hit and new song alike.
The brief, compulsory goodbye led to an encore that will be talked about for years. An incredibly amazing figure of the horned Devil floated up as the band launched into “Number of the Beast.” Next, the band chose to play “Blood Brothers,” off of 2000’s Brave New World. An odd choice for an encore song, to be sure, but there was a high degree of support for it nevertheless. And Dickinson’s heartfelt intro to it alone was enough to warm the crowd. He again acknowledged how messed up the world is and how the Iron Maiden family continues to attract those of different colors, creeds, and ages, and that family never hurts one another. “We get together to listen to Iron Maiden songs about the Devil and we go home happy.” Concluding the night with the irrepressible classic “Wasted Years,” Iron Maiden left the stage for good, but not after Nicko McBrain came out from behind his amazing drum kit and threw a bunch of sticks into the audience.
They came heroes, they left heroes. Iron Maiden proved tonight that not only are they the greatest live Heavy Metal band who ever lived, but that the fire which ignited them still burns bright.