It was the decade of stripping down both music and theatrics. Something worked, something didn’t. Here’s our say on the BEST & WORST of Iron Maiden‘s 1990s stage productions!
Our previous feature in this series looked at the BEST & WORST of Maiden’s 1980s stage productions. The period 1984-1988 gave fans no less than three outstanding productions: World Slavery Tour, Somewhere On Tour and Seventh Tour Of A Seventh Tour. With these world tours, Maiden took their theatrical staging to the max, successfully transferring Derek Riggs‘ artwork masterpieces to the concert arena.
The dawn of the 1990s was a time of many changes that would transform Maiden throughout the decade: The scaling down of production values in the studio contributed to the departure of guitarist Adrian Smith. But the changes would also be apparent in concert. The band seemed to react to declining American sales and the big Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son production by “going street” or “getting back to basics”, after hiring new guitarist Janick Gers.
In short, there wouldn’t be a single pyro blast until 1999 and the return of Smith and singer Bruce Dickinson. Good thing? Bad thing? Read on to get our verdict, first Christer‘s and then Torgrim‘s.
CHRISTER’S BEST & WORST
Maiden might have feared that they were being pinned down as dinosaurs with their elaborate 1980s productions. But I don’t know what is more Spinal Tap: Pyramids and icebergs, or ludicrous numbers of Marshall stacks to flank the drum riser? They might even go to 11…
Jeans and leather jackets replaced spandex trousers and metal studs for the No Prayer For The Dying world tour in 1990-91, and thus Maiden embarked on a new decade with every intention of remaining relevant. Just a couple of years later, the world would be in the grip of grunge, but Maiden actually anticipated this change into simpler and less theatrical stage productions. The setlist also leaned heavily in favor of their latest album’s more basic selection, with only 3 songs performed from the theater-heavy 1984-88 period, none of which can be said to be very proggy in style.
The No Prayer On The Road setlist: Tailgunner / Public Enema Number One / Wrathchild / Die With Your Boots On / Hallowed Be Thy Name / 22 Acacia Avenue / Holy Smoke / The Assassin / No Prayer For The Dying / Hooks In You / The Clairvoyant / 2 Minutes To Midnight / The Trooper / Heaven Can Wait / Iron Maiden // The Number Of The Beast / Bring Your Daughter…To The Slaughter / Run To The Hills / Sanctuary. (The Prisoner and The Evil That Men Do would be performed a few times at the end of the tour in 1991.)
With the No Prayer For The Dying tour, Maiden scaled down their stage show in an obvious attempt to “be cooler”. It could be argued that the 1980s left them nowhere else to go, but it is also a fact that this down-scaling saw the end of Maiden’s brilliant run of visually stunning stage shows, only to be sporadically reanimated in the reunion era.
Economics? Attempts at being cool? Probably a bit of both.
The Fear Of The Dark tour in 1992 built on the previous tour’s aesthetic to a degree that no Maiden tour had done before. In essence, the 1992 production is just a slightly beefed-up version of the 1990 production.
The Marshall stacks dominate the stage, the Eddie backdrops are used throughout for visual effect (although it soon becomes predictable and thus boring), but the light show is a lot more tasteful and sophisticated this time. An example of this is the rows of white lights embedded in the steps of the drum riser. They could be very effective in places like the chorus of Can I Play With Madness, where the band wanted the audience to scream along.
Bruce also got a new set of ramps to tread, flanking the drums behind the Marshall stacks and leading to a high ramp behind Nicko McBrain. This platform would be a permanent feature of Maiden tours when Bruce surprisingly returned to the band for the 2000s. This tour gets my vote as the best production of the 1990s, because it’s really a refined version of the “back to basics” approach, and one that seems to fit the album’s music and themes very well:
The Fear Of The Dark show actually got a proper live video release with Donington Live 1992. The unfortunate thing about this is the style of the direction and editing. Steve Harris relinquished control of the production to Samuel Bayer and Paul Spencer, possibly at the urging of Bruce, who never liked Steve’s style. The result is a tiresome mix of color and black/white, overuse of slow-motion and filter effects, and other features that obscure the visuals of the actual show for “artistic” vision.
Much of the show is also very obviously filmed in a smaller venue than Donington Park. It was all a mistake, particularly since the visual style is completely at odds with Harris’ “garage band” production of the soundtrack, but this will at some point see the light of day on DVD:
It’s been described by manager Rod Smallwood, rather weakly, as “very moody”…
In any case, the Fear Of The Dark tour also marked the end of the time when you could go to an Iron Maiden concert and be genuinely in the dark about what songs the band might play. With Dickinson’s departure in 1993 and the arrival of new singer Blaze Bayley, the setlist selections available to Maiden narrowed considerably.
The 1992 show was a pretty exciting mix of old and new songs, and the best take on the more basic approach to production that the band and crew would ever come up with.
The Fear Of The Dark setlist: Be Quick Or Be Dead / The Number Of The Beast / Wrathchild / From Here To Eternity / Can I Play With Madness / Wasting Love / Tailgunner / The Evil That Men Do / Afraid To Shoot Strangers / Fear Of The Dark / Bring Your Daughter…To The Slaughter / The Clairvoyant / Heaven Can Wait / Run To The Hills / 2 Minutes To Midnight / Iron Maiden // Hallowed Be Thy Name / The Trooper / Sanctuary / Running Free. (The 1993 leg of the tour also saw the band perform Prowler, Transylvania, Remember Tomorrow and Where Eagles Dare.)
When Maiden reemerged in late 1995, after two years away that were inexplicably spent writing and recording Blaze’s first Maiden album The X Factor, the question of stage production was nearly moot. There would be no big production, because the theater-type venues Maiden now played couldn’t hold one.
Nonetheless, the band opted to return to dressing up the stage according to the album artwork, foresaking the Marshall stack aesthetic of the early 1990s. So, the 1995-96 tour for The X Factor saw the band performing on a stage where Eddie got fried in an electric chair. Exactly why this happens in what resembles an industrial area is anyone’s guess:
The X Factour setlist: Man On The Edge / Wrathchild / Heaven Can Wait / Lord Of The Flies / Fortunes Of War / Blood On The World’s Hands / Afraid To Shoot Strangers / The Evil That Men Do / The Aftermath / Sign Of The Cross / 2 Minutes To Midnight / The Edge Of Darkness / Fear Of The Dark / The Clairvoyant / Iron Maiden // The Number Of The Beast / Hallowed Be Thy Name / The Trooper.
Maiden’s The X Factor staging was fairly effective for the smaller venues the band played in 1995-96, but looked much too dark and empty when they set it up in South American stadiums, as the above video proves. They attempted to rectify this with the subsequent tour for Virtual XI in 1998, but this production gets my vote as the worst of the 1990s.
Once again, Maiden made the mistake of creating a particular visual landscape without apparently knowing what it’s supposed to be, as they had previously done with Piece Of Mind in 1983:
I remember clearly how the band and Rod talked this show up as being a return to the huge productions of the 80s. Bull-fucking-shit! Once again, they decide not to do any pyro at all, something that had been missing for a long time, and the stage set itself has no other function than being mysterious in a very ugly way. The inflatable Eddie conceived for the tour is possibly the most ridiculous monster they ever gave us. His jaw looks like huge fingers that seem unable to connect with his cranium, and Nicko would often have to push and shove to get the damn thing to clear his kit and inflate properly. Gers and co-guitarist Dave Murray would sometimes have to perform a similar Tap-ish duty with the hands that were inflated on stage left and right.
This is a band with no clue about how to construct appealing visual themes anymore. In addition, the much-touted promise to return rare gems to the setlist was completely not delivered on. As such, the Virtual XI tour had the distinction of being a terrible production along with the worst setlist of the entire decade.
The Virtual XI setlist: Futureal / The Angel And The Gambler / Man On The Edge / Lightning Strikes Twice / Heaven Can Wait / The Clansman / When Two Worlds Collide / Lord Of The Flies / 2 Minutes To Midnight / The Educated Fool / Sign Of The Cross / Hallowed Be Thy Name / Afraid To Shoot Strangers / The Evil That Men Do / The Clairvoyant / Fear Of The Dark / Iron Maiden // The Number Of The Beast / The Trooper / Sanctuary.
Their worst ever album. Their worst ever album title and artwork. Their worst ever live setlist. Their worst ever stage production. Bottom reached. But could they dig themselves out of it…?
TORGRIM’S BEST & WORST
While the back to basics approach of the early 1990s tours certainly left a lot to be desired in terms of eye candy and show stoppers, it also represented a somewhat refreshing turn of events for the band.
One could speculate on how much further they could go with the massive stage constructions that was seen on the Seventh Tour Of A Seventh Tour, and you could argue that the impressive stage set took away some of the focus from the actual band, who at that point were turning pretty rigid in terms of stage presence. Steve Harris and Bruce Dickinson were running around like always, but guitar maestros Dave Murray and Adrian Smith seemed to be very comfortable in their respective corners.
While No Prayer On The Road 1990/1991 represented the change, I have to agree with Christer when it comes to the Fear Of The Dark Tour 1992 production values. It’s more refined than its predecessor, the coloring of the ramps and the floor design in combination with a very nice lighting rig makes it a little bit more than only Marshall stacks and drapes, which in essence was the case with No Prayer On The Road.
The band is the visual focal point, and while I was missing Adrian Smith dearly in the 90s, Janick Gers did a great job with kicking the other guys into gear again. Dave Murray was hardly recognizable from the laid-back character we knew in the late 80s. He was now running around and swinging his axe like a madman. Way to go, Dave!
My choice for the worst tour production of the 90s would be The EdHuntour 1999. Maiden ended the 1990s by getting back together with Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith and celebrating their new-found ability with a godsent setlist:
Aces High / Wrathchild / The Trooper / 2 Minutes To Midnight / The Clansman / Wasted Years / Killers / Futureal / Man On The Edge / Powerslave / Phantom Of The Opera / The Evil That Men Do / Fear Of The Dark / Iron Maiden // The Number Of The Beast / Hallowed Be Thy Name / Run to the Hills. (Stranger In A Strange Land was performed on the first few gigs of the US leg of the tour.)
How about that?
Yet they failed big-time to recreate the stunning visuals from their heyday, which was clearly the ambition here. Caught up in the, already by then, terribly dated concept of the Ed Hunter computer game, they put together a mishmash of old ideas “upgraded” to tie in with the concept of the game. You’ve got the checked floor from the World Piece Tour. You’ve got something reminiscent of the World Slavery Tour catacombs on the risers. And so on…
Another example of bad judgement is the way the backdrops are done. Look at the Powerslave backdrop for instance. Instead of painting it the way the classic album cover was executed in 1984, they’ve used the terrible graphics from the game instead. And what is that green goblin looking like Hulk doing on stage?
It could have been a tremendous package, but it just looked naff. Performance wise: Mind-blowing! Here’s an example of both, a rare performance of Stranger In A Strange Land on a very strange stage somewhere in Canada in 1999:
The band left behind them a decade of very disappointing stage productions when compared to the glorious 1980s. In our previous Best & Worst feature we discussed the 80s productions and found that at least three of them were killer: World Slavery Tour, Somewhere On Tour, and Seventh Tour Of A Seventh Tour, with Beast On The Road also being an honorable entry.
At the dawn of the 1990s they stripped everything down, and only the Fear Of The Dark production gets our thumbs up. Indeed, when it came time to create more ambitious productions again, Maiden seemed to have completely forgotten how to do it. Thus they closed the decade with two of their worst ever productions, the Virtual XI and Ed Hunter treks in 1998 and 1999.
Next time, we’ll see how they fared in the new millennium…