An argument could be made that Iron Maiden is the best live band in the world today. They certainly command large followers on nearly every continent and each performance is treated with a bombast that is nearly equal to a Wagnerian opera with tinnitus-inducing volume.
It’s no wonder that there are so many live titles already available in Maiden’s catalog. They’re certainly deserving of the format given the visual intensity of each show, the fret-melting guitar (and bass) work, and the manic loyalty of their fan base. Their last outing, Rock In Rio, was a quick-edit, 120-minute homage to the band’s performance at Rio de Janeiro in front of a quarter-million people. It featured nearly one song from every album and it stands as the point where I began to appreciate the band once again. To be able to perform in front of that many people well into their career and to do it without a hint of compromise struck me as incredibly noble.
After those two hours were up, I relented and counted myself as a fan again. I could think of very few bands with that length of career that took such a no bullshit approach and was still able to deliver a live show with such conviction and energy so many years into their career.
Flight 666 is the latest visual offering in the band’s extensive video collection. It follows the band on the first leg of their “Somewhere Back In Time” tour, a tour that would find them recreating the stage set from their Powerslave album and bringing back the futuristic Eddie from the Somewhere In Time cover. The first leg was notable for cramming 23 shows in 13 different countries in a mere 45 days. The band customized a Boeing 757 airliner to haul them, their road crew, and 12 tons of stage equipment-deemed ‘Ed Force One’-to ensure an event like this would be possible.
Flying the airliner? None other than lead vocalist, Bruce Dickenson.
It’s obvious that all of this necessitates the need for a videographer, but the band tapped uber-metalheads Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn (Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey) to document the event, giving the filmmakers full access to the band. The two do a great job of giving fans a glimpse into the world of Maiden beyond the larger than life image the band presents on stage. Some of it—drummer Nicko McBrain playing golf, guitarist Adrian Smith playing tennis with Pat Cash, Dickenson donning appropriate captain’s attire every time he gets in the jet cockpit—are notably “un-metal,” but these segments provide a glimpse into what the band’s good fortunes have provided them.
The filmmakers also take an affectionate view of the fans—most of whom are surprisingly young and maniacally passionate. Sure, there are shots of people who represent my own age bracket and the obligatory footage of generational Maiden families, but there is a high percentage of males in their late teens/early twenties that view the band with such devotion that each show resembles a spiritual event. There’s the Columbian fan who stoically refers to horse mounted police as “assholes” for aggressively corralling concert goers who’ve lined up to get into the stadium, physically threatening those who step out of line. Later on, another Columbian fan openly weeps after the show, tightly clutching one of McBrains’ drumsticks he grabbed. And there are the more common shots of tailgaters, front-row singers, and the nosebleed fanatics that obey Dickenson’s every request to “make some fucking noise.” It’s this attention—an inherent need to document that part of the fun of any concert is watching those around you—that sets Flight 666 apart from other rock documentaries.
This may be the first Maiden video that actually manages to make fans out of those who previously were unfamiliar or uncaring about one of metal’s most preeminent bands. It’s done with just the right amount of loving care that it not only captures the fervor, it quietly explains the reason behind it. There’s barely a hint of self-righteousness to the band members. They’ve come from working class backgrounds, found success after creating a unique blend of metal and punk, are able to enjoy the luxuries of said success and they continue to perform to legions of fans around the world throughout ever-changing tastes. At the end of the day, what counts is what’s proved on stage and Flight 666 clearly shows that Maiden still has the chops to prove it in that setting. But what sets this movie apart from other Maiden documents is the logistical work it takes to truly “up the irons.”
Trailer: Iron Maiden Flight 666
More video clips.