As the sun began to set behind the hills of Holmdel New Jersey, the nearly 20,000 people gathered to see Iron Maiden play were growing restless.Every time another crewmember came on stage in the dark, a small cheer was raised in hopes that it was actually one of the band.A few idle strums or bass guitar thumps were evidence enough that things weren’t quite ready yet.
Then the lights went down.The crowd cheered.And as the opening kettledrum notes of Gustav Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War” began to pulse out over the crowd, the expectant crown rose to life as one.The projection screens showed a series of images from the Hubble Space Telescope as Holst’s most recognizable tune continued to wash out over the crowd, with the slide show finally ending on an image of crossed halberds across a helmeted skull…the Iron Maiden “logo” from A Matter of Life and Death.And as the band finally bounded on stage open with a powerful rendition of the newer classic “The Wicker Man,” one thing was certain; Iron Maiden was in control.
Iron Maiden has done some risky things over past tours; Bruce Dickinson would actually reference this in a speech to the crowd when he mentioned how the band would do things like come out and play their entire new album while “experts” told them that they were committing commercial suicide.This anti-establishment stance may have cost them some fans, but the ones that have remained have become ever more loyal, and Dickinson spoke to them all like they were decades’ long friends.The 2010 Final Frontier tour would not be quite as “limited” set list wise, but the vast majority of the material selected for performance would be drawn from the post-reunion albums Brave New World, Dance of Death, and A Matter of Life and Death, with a few other songs tossed in for good measure.
Following on from the opening salvos of “The Wicker Man,” Maiden kept things going with the epic “Ghost of the Navigator,” with thousands of fans singing along. The band showed amazing energy on stage with Dickinson running around the tiered, ramp bracketed stage like someone half or less his age.Bassist Steve Harris would jump, pogo, run and wield his bass like a machine gun, aiming it at the audience as he played his trademark galloping bass licks.While Adrian Smith and Dave Murray always seem a bit more restrained on stage, Jannick Gers is still playing the part of the energetic young hotshot, whipping his guitar around his back, dancing jigs, and generally continuing to act like someone getting to live his biggest dream even after almost 20 years in the band.
A brief trip to the past for “Wrathchild” (from 1981’s Killers) set up the sole new track in the set list.Coming from the band’s forthcoming release The Final Frontier, “El Dorado” is a crunchy mid tempo rocker that was released as a free download on 8 June.It seemed obvious to me that a good bit of the crowd had availed themselves of the download, as they seemed pretty familiar with the track.It was a powerful rendition of the new song, one that bodes well for the rest of the material to come on the forthcoming album.“Dance of Death,” the title track from Maiden’s 2003 album, was played next, but it honestly seemed overshadowed by the tracks to follow.
A pair of tracks from A Matter of Life and Death (“The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg” and “These Colours Don't Run”) got a huge response from the crowd, especially “These Colours Don't Run,” which Dickinson explained was about people who believed in what they were fighting for…not necessarily wars, but also including people fighting for peace or whatever.The crowd ate both tracks up, and the energy continued through an epic take on Brave New World’s “Blood Brothers,” which featured some of the most passionate audience response of any song in the set.Dickinson used this cut as an opportunity to “indoctrinate” the new audience members into ‘the brother and sisterhood of Iron Maiden,’ and after seeing what an Iron Maiden show is like, I can see that.I think a lot of people seem to have an image of metal shows as being excessively loud, drink fueled orgies of violence, but this was perhaps one of the best behaved concerts I had ever seen, with fans talking to each other like old friends.
A few more newer songs (“Wildest Dreams,” “No More Lies” and “Brave New World”) led the band toward the end of their set, and a trip down memory lane.Maiden took the crowd back to the early 1990’s with “Fear of the Dark’ from the album of the same name, while the opening notes of the band’s title song caused the crowd to go nuts, as much for what they knew was going to happen on stage as for the song.Sure enough, part way through the track Eddie the ‘Ead made his appearance on stage, harassing and interfering with the band as they played.All of this could be seen on the projection screens via the ‘Eddie-cam,” which gave the crown a band’s eye view of the mayhem.Eddie finally stole one of the guitars and began to “play” as Harris and Gers attacked with their guitar and bass, with the crowd screaming along in joy.
As the final notes of “Iron Maiden” finally faded and the band retreated from the stage, the lights dimmed and the crowd began their chant of “MAI-DEN!MAI’DEN!”A few minutes passed before a familiar recitation came across the PA system:
“Woe to you, oh earth and sea…for the devil send the Beast with wrath, for He knows the time is short.”
What little bit of sanity the crowd had was gone, as evidenced by the lanky gentleman near my spot on the hill, who was flailing around, headbanging and thrusting one hand in the air, fingers forked, as he tried to video the band playing through his violent dancing.It was a difficult decision, choosing to watch the band or watch this guy acting like a jittering fool.A second track from The Number of the Beast album, “Hallowed be thy Name,” followed on, with the audience singing as loudly as their lungs would allow.Maiden finally drew the night to a close with a hilarious take on “Running Free,” memorable for the audience participation Dickinson instigated.Between his comments to the audience about his hat, which he finally tossed to the crowd, to his British Bobby’s hat and his comment about getting one young lady’s “particulars” later, by this point the crowd was fully in the band’s capable hands.
Finally fully wrung out, the crowd gave the band one last ovation as they left the stage, and as the lights came up, and Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” began to be played, the audience started their slow trip out of the venue, converts to the Iron Maiden cause.
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