Iron Maiden are back. Yes, every year we get to say that. But this time it’s different. Read on for a non-spoiler and spoiler double review of the Legacy Of The Beast concert in Stockholm, Sweden.
There has been no lack of hype for this tour. In particular singer Bruce Dickinson has made us all very much aware that Maiden are cooking up something different for their first tour into retro-land that is not part of the History cycle (2005, 2008-09, 2012-14).
Christer (that’s me) went to the Stockholm show mostly unspoiled, in fact only knowing the opening song of the show. And this review will take care to be spoiler-free at the beginning, letting you know when to turn away later on when spoilers come into it. The first few pictures here spoil nothing but what the band have used in announcements, so there is nothing you should not see.
NON-SPOILER OPINION OF THE SHOW
Two things are immediately apparent when the band hits the stage: Dickinson is on mind-blowing vocal form and the band’s new sound boss, Kenneth Van Druten, provides the full and powerful mix that the world’s best metal band deserves. Everything from vocals to drums is clear and well balanced, with a nice and groovy bottom end, from the first song to the last.
Maiden and manager Rod Smallwood have obviously decided to spend big money on both sound and visuals this time around, and the career-spanning stage production is certainly among the very best they have ever delivered. The setlist offers up pretty much what the band have promised since the tour announcement: A clear focus on 1980s favorites, but also a healthy dose of more recent material and at least one deep cut that few of us have ever seen them perform.
There is a consciously dramatic flow to the set, songs being performed as small pieces of theatre within the structure of three overarching thematic worlds. Dickinson’s fingerprints are all over this production, and he seems to relish being both master of ceremonies and the lead character in a number of dramas.
If anything, Maiden’s music has always lent itself to this treatment. Sometimes we have also seen them put on heavily dramatized shows like Powerslave and The Book Of Souls. On this occasion it’s clear that the Bruce of old who once apologized for being too theatrical has come full circle, back to what he loves and does better than anyone. Another highlight of the show is how he approaches the singing, putting many of the songs closer to their original album recordings than the sometimes over-the-top performances of more recent tours and DVDs. One fan favorite in particular benefits from this more restrained approach.
Towards the end of the show it’s clear that Maiden focused most of their energy on the first two thirds of the concert, not because the final third isn’t good, but because it’s on the safe side and not quite keeping the drama up like the rest of the set.
Even so, this is a triumphant Iron Maiden showing the boys how men do it. Special praise must be given to Dickinson and drummer Nicko McBrain, neither of whom are showing the signs of age you would expect.
Although the set nearly came to a halt when Nicko’s bass pedal broke down during a particular part of a particular song. But you’ll have to read the spoiler section below for that information. You’ve been warned now…
Still here? Then it’s time to get into the spoiler material, discussing the setlist in detail and the production choices that either work or don’t. One last chance to turn away now, before I go on.
SPOILER OPINION OF THE SHOW
In the 40 year saga of Iron Maiden playing concerts, there is obviously one opening song that stands out more than others: Aces High. It seems redundant to do it again, but when the opening video drops the build-up and simply launches right into Churchill’s Speech there is no argument: This is the Maiden opener to end all openers.
A Spitfire hovering over the stage adds a nice bit of drama to the excellent delivery that Dickinson gives. The sound is superb from the first chord struck, and Dickinson sounds impossibly good. It seems logical that they’ll go right into track number 2 from the Powerslave album, but no, this set throws a few curveballs.
The band retire, sound effects reverberate, and a backdrop showing a downed cable car and a fortress on a mountain inevitably signals: Where Eagles Dare. And this is where goosebumps isn’t enough of a description. The groove is perfect, the guitar interplay as well, and Dickinson seriously makes me question if he’s lying about his age. He must be 30, not nearly 60. But so he will be, this summer, while delivering vocals anyone would think to be beyond a man his age who just survived throat cancer.
Check out this fan video from Helsinki:
We are clearly in the first of the three worlds that Maiden travel through in this show: WAR. And this incredible double opening salvo leads into an overplayed but fitting 2 Minutes To Midnight, before the band turn to the 1990s for a track that has not been played in fifteen years: The Clansman. Stockholm sure seems to like it, the huge hall shouting along to every single “Freedom!” and much of the guitar melodies too.
Another safe bet arrives in the form of The Trooper, one of those tracks that a majority of fans would probably be disappointed not to have in the set, while the hardcore fans might be tired of it. Dickinson tries to freshen it up by engaging Eddie in a sword fight, but it’s not one of the show’s highlights.
Then the scene changes to the second of the interlocking worlds of the Legacy of the Beast show: RELIGION. Maiden enter the cathedral to play the fairly regular track Revelations, the third song from Piece Of Mind this evening. Another jump in the timeline, into the 2000s, gives us the rarity For The Greater Good Of God, and Dickinson still sounds impossibly strong on what is a very difficult song to sing.
Staying in fairly recent parts of the catalog they churn out a cool The Wicker Man, in which guitarist Adrian Smith adds some nice harmony vocals for the first time live. And in the spot of centerpiece, where we might have expected to find something from 1984 or 1988, a surprise is in store: Sign Of The Cross from 1995’s The X Factor. It’s been almost eighteen years since the last time they played it, and the drama of Bruce’s act and cross-wielding along with a very nice pyro display finally brings the track into its proper place.
But it nearly went wrong.
In the dramatic build-up in the middle of the song, when Nicko drives the band along in a less-than-straight-ahead time signature, the bottom suddenly fell out of the sound. Judging by the drum tech that dove straight into the area of Nicko’s feet the problem was the bass drum pedal. My guess is that it broke somehow and that’s why some people cited a sound problem. The band nearly broke down too, the expression of pain on Adrian’s face as he tried to keep in time saying it all…
Bassist Steve Harris kept going with a grim attitude and just before they would have had to stop and restart … the bass drum came back and Maiden just barely made it into the following triumphant uptempo part while pyro blasted from the lighting rig on cue. Bloody well done, pyro folks! How did you hit that cue?!
Phew, close shave.
And then, possibly the biggest surprise of all: As Sign Of The Cross wound down, a man with wings ascended from behind the drums, and Nicko counted out the one, two on the hi-hat that kicks of Flight Of Icarus.
Incomprehensibly avoided since 1986, that’s 32 years ago, Maiden’s biggest American single finally returned. And how. With a fat groove and an ecstatic audience, Bruce had only to light up the flamethrowers and revel in his and the band’s Stockholm triumph:
Flying too close to the sun is as perilous as coming too close to Bruce’s flamethrowers and the Maiden lighting rig, and the track gave Icarus a dramatic end as the set shifted into the third and final setting of the night: HELL.
From here on out the set was a tad too much on the safe side, the only real surprise being that Fear Of The Dark did not immediately precede Iron Maiden. This version of the ever-present title track from 1992’s Fear Of The Dark had Dickinson singing much closer to the original version than he has done in ages, while wearing a mask and carrying a green lantern. Nice touch, as it gave the track more of a chilling graveyard atmosphere than it has ever had.
A pyro-heavy The Number Of The Beast then brought things into properly hellish territory before the band’s signature track ended the main set in fine style.
The triple encore that Maiden performed was solid, but not adventurous: The Evil That Men Do, Hallowed Be Thy Name and Run To The Hills. Dickinson ends the concert on the same peak of performance as he started it, but if they had placed just one surprise track here they would really have driven it home.
For those who want to see it, this is a fairly decent video bootleg of the Stockholm show, and we can only hope and pray that the band will film this incredible performance for a proper DVD/BD release:
Big plusses: A mostly impressive stage production, great sound, a top notch singer, and a few tracks that count as rarities. It is certainly one of the best Maiden shows ever, but in such mighty company it still needs a little extra touch to decide the outcome – namely another rare track in the last third that would equal the return of Where Eagles Dare, Sign Of The Cross and Flight Of Icarus.
In terms of my rating system, the Stockholm show was great but one or two tracks short of a masterpiece. Not much of a complaint, really.
Christer’s Verdict: 5/6