Iron Maiden at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre
Tinley Park, Illinois, July 18, 2010
It’s an impressive thing when a band 30 years into its existence can bring in the largest crowds of its career, particularly when the tour promotes an album that hasn’t even been released and the set list contains material largely collected from the last decade of records and not the more recognizable songs of the past.
If you were to believe vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s claim that Iron Maiden‘s Sunday night performance was the largest attendance that they’ve ever seen during numerous stops in Chicago, then you’d have to acknowledge that the band must be feeling a bit of accomplishment, particularly after they’d nearly been written off entirely during the ’90s.
But since Dickinson returned to the fold some ten years ago, and thanks to some strategic concert videos that demonstrate the band’s prowess on stage, Iron Maiden is reaping the fruits of a career built on their own terms.
While it’s true that the members of Iron Maiden have been afforded very comfortable lives, one gets the sense that they view this period of their history with a sense of obligation. They also seem to recognize that one of the reasons for their resurgence isn’t necessarily with the fans of old, but with the offspring of those original concertgoers who grew up around The Number of the Beast, Powerslave, and stories of live shows where a ten-foot tall zombie comes out at the end of the set.
Because of this, Dickinson and company have charted a setlist for The Final Frontier tour that relies heavily on 2000’s comeback album Brave New World as well as songs from Dance Of Death (2003) and A Matter of Life and Death (2006). Judging from his comments from the stage, Bruce thinks that the younger kids are buying these recent records in the same fashion that my peers purchased Piece Of Mind or any other of their recognized classics.
Kids don’t buy records like that anymore, and his commands for us to buy the new record The Final Frontier on August 16 will award the band with a high chart entry, but little in terms of the copies sold comparative to those albums that Iron Maiden stubbornly avoided on Sunday night.
Not that I’m complaining; this was my first Maiden show and I took the band up on their decision to create a show that would change my mind when placing Maiden 2000 to 2010 next to Maiden 1982-1992.
The short answer is that they came up damn close.
The performance confirmed that I wasn’t wrong in my praise of A Matter of Life and Death and it demonstrated that a song from that release—”The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg”—is a worthy entry in the band’s long cannon of epic songs.
It also made me want to seek out Dance Of Death, a desire based solely on their performance of the title track, one which had 18,000 Abe Fromans clapping out a waltz rhythm during the acoustic introduction.
The same could not be said of all of the Brave New Worldmaterial—the album that received the most attention from the band on this date—which, apart from the opener “The Wicker Man,” put the breaks on any sense of momentum in transforming the crowd from fervent worshippers into maniacal fanatics.
Maybe it was a matter of timing instead of preference as Dickinson ran around the stage so effortlessly throughout the two-hour set that he could make even the youngest fan jealous of his physicality. The man utilized every stage ramp and used stage monitors like trampolines to the point where I heard the neighbors in my area voice disbelief.
He is a master classicist, a trait that is probably overlooked my many in attendance. The endless calisthenics are merely a visual distraction to the fact that there is a ton of operatic drama taking place at an Iron Maiden show. And not just with Dickinson’s vocal performance either.
You could probably chart the band’s musical contributions and see glaring comparisons to the scales of classic composers. It wasn’t present during the band’s first two albums; those managed to blend heavy metal with punk, inventing a new sub-genre in the process.
When original vocalist Paul Di’Anno was let go, the band began forging towards the grandiose heights, and at 52 years of age, Bruce Dickinson hasn’t lost one iota of range and can hit those notes while sprinting across the stage of a makeshift gold mine shaft.
At an even older age, drummer Nicko McBrain works in anonymity behind a huge kit with only one bass drum, visible by video camera and when he raises his lanky frame upright to make comedic faces throughout the show. He performs with the utmost seriousness, but his expressions let everyone know that there is an inherent sense of British humor going on with the band’s never-ending parade of corpses, Satanic imagery, and tales of oppression.
The seriousness belongs to bassist Steve Harris, the mastermind of much of Maiden’s tales of dread. He stalks the stage, mouthing his lyrics to the crowd while placing a foot on top of a stage monitor like he was taking Iwo Jima for his British crew. While Dickinson may have been footing the terrain, Harris was doing a workout with his fingers, endlessly plucking his bass in double-time, making up for McBrain’s lack of a second bass drum.
Original guitarist Dave Murray played with a permanent smile affixed to his face, deviating the expression only when he was locked-in during the intimacy of his fluid soloing.
Keep in mind that Murray is one of three guitarists, with Adrian Smith and Janek Gers filling the other guitar duties. When one guitarist would finish with their solo, they’d politely gesture to the next soloist who would begin furiously shredding.
While some complaints could be overheard about the ratio of old to new on The Final Frontier‘s setlist, my only complaint was how the songs began to show signs of cracking under the weight of their own girth right after dedicating “Blood Brothers” to the late Ronnie James Dio. For the next three songs, the band followed a pattern of restrained openings which led into predictable dynamic spurts. And since the songs frequently ended up running around seven or eight minutes after everyone got their guitar solo in, the material began to seem a little samey. One gentlemen behind me on more than one occasion during this part of the set incorrectly identified songs as “Fear Of The Dark” before the band finally obliged with the real deal. You can’t fault him completely since the songs that prompted him to announce an incorrect track listing follow the same formula as “Fear Of The Dark.”
This same gentleman was shirtless throughout the entire show, and anytime a stage backdrop showed mascot Eddie holding a flag, he would immediately yell, “All right! The Tooper!”
I wish my sweaty neighbor was right; those three long-players would have been better served by a hearty version of “The Trooper,” or anything from Piece Of Mind or Powerslave for that matter.
When the band did look back, they looked all the way to the Di’Anno era. By the third song, they were devastating “Wrathchild” from Killers and proving that giving Dickinson the nod after that album was the right thing.
Eddie came out in some weird Alien attire during the closer “Iron Maiden,” giving way to a short pause before a familiar voice came over the p.a. reciting Chapter 12, Verse 12 of the Book of Revelation.
To say the crowd went crazy before you could say “Woe to you O Earth and sea” would be an understatement. The pit—once a sea of war-weary sweaty dudes and tired revelers who shot their wads too early—suddenly began bouncing in unison, occasionally sending thin daredevils over the outstretched arms of the first few rows.
When they followed “The Number of the Beast” with “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” grown men began embracing each other. It got chaotic enough that even the few women in attendance, dragged to the venue by their devoted companions, stood up to see what the fuss was all about.
The band ended the encore with another selection from the debut, “Running Free,” which normally would have only run for about two-and-a-half minutes if it weren’t for the obligatory band member introductions…like we didn’t know their names already.
Dickinson also took time to remind the audience again to buy The Final Frontier. What they should do instead is make sure the record is part of the merchandising offerings as many t-shirt sizes were already sold out before the set even began and nearly everything else was picked clean fifteen minutes after the show ended.
Indeed, a middle-aged Mexican American who offered me a swig of tequila in the parking lot while we waited for the traffic lines to die down told me he had sold his t-shirt for $10 more than what he paid at the merch tent to another audience member who was too slow with their money.
He was too drunk to get the joke when I asked him if opener Dream Theatre had performed “Silent Lucidity.” He shrugged and said he didn’t remember much from their set except that the drummer (Mike Portnoy) had a bunch of drums.
Yes, we missed Dream Theatre, choosing instead to slam beers in the parking lot and avoid the Live Nation security saps who looked miserable roaming the gravel parking lot, fighting the dust, heat, and endless parade of black t-shirts. The logic behind our maneuver was simple: there’s a reason we haven’t heard one single Dream Theatre song, even when they’ve been around for nearly twenty years, so why start learning about them now?
Besides, we were there to fulfill a lifelong desire to see Iron Maiden in the flesh. Dickinson acknowledged us first timers during one of his stage banters, stating, “We don’t care what color you are, your sexuality, your religion, your creed, your political party…as long as you’re here, you’re part of the family.”
I can’t wait for the next family reunion.
The Wicker Man
Ghost Of The Navigator
Dance Of Death
The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg
These Colours Don’t Run
No More Lies
Brave New World
Fear Of The Dark
The Number Of The Beast
Hallow Be Thy Name