Iron Maiden w/Airbourne @ Motorpoint Arena [Live Review]

Band: Iron Maiden, Airbourne
Location: Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield
Date: 24th July 2011

Airbourne and Iron Maiden – a Match ‘Maiden’ Heaven

Australian heavy metallers ‘Airbourne’ and home-grown titans of metal ‘Iron Maiden’ stormed Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena last night.  The sold-out stadium thrummed with the energy of thousands of metalheads – from very young to very old, from Maiden virgins (losing their ‘maidenheads’?) to veteran fans – all eagerly anticipating what was certain to be a night of metal that would never be forgotten.

Airbourne –

I feel genuinely sorry for any band who supports Iron Maiden – such is nature of most Maiden fans that if (through dark voodoo witchcraft) a Maiden support band was created with Janis Joplin and Ronnie James Dio on vocals, Jimi Hendrix on guitar, Mozart on keyboards and Cliff Burton on bass, the crowd would still watch with politeness and mild disinterest, wandering to and from the merch table and the food stalls, killing time until Maiden started.

However, Airbourne held the crowd’s attention and more – exploding onto the stage from the outset with ‘Raise the Flag’. As driving riffs, supported by heavy, thundering bass, flew toward the heavens, Joel O’Keeffe hurdled monitors, playing ferociously. Ably supported by David Roads and Justin Street on backing vocals, the chorus instantly incited the crowd, shouting ‘Raise the flag!’ with fists pumped high into the air.  Screaming scales throughout the solo and outro reminded the audience that, while the main riffs in this song sound simple, the band is made up of talented musicians whose guitar playing will tear your face off.

Slowing the pace down with ‘Cheap Wine and Cheaper Women’, Airbourne brandish their heavy rock influences both in the almost country rock-style build up but also in their stage show, with synchronised headbanging and guitar swaying.

Ryan O’Keeffe’s drumming is clear; he drives the tempo changes and adds some unexpected syncopation at times, which suggests that, while these guys are firmly rooted in classic hard rock and heavy metal, they aren’t bound by the expectations of the genre – they are willing to experiment and create their own identity.

Justin Street’s bass playing is solid as a rock, providing a strong foundation upon which David Roads and Joel O’Keeffe can build their pyramids of power chords under spiralling riffs and complex solos. Roads’ rhythm is animated and pounds along, giving the set a feel of consistent acceleration.

Joel O’Keeffe’s voice is like a laser – precise, strong , and cutting – capable of destroying cities or performing intricate surgery. He tactically uses it, oscillating easily between a powerful, classic rock style falsetto that appears to slice through the stage fog as it drifts down from the catwalk and a lower, gravelly baritone timbre that reverberates against the stadium walls.

Throughout their set (which continued – Steel Town; Diamond in the Rough; Blackjack; No Way but the Hard Way; Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast; Stand Up for Rock & Roll; Runnin’ Wild), Airbourne continued to prove themselves as future legends of rock, ready to receive the torch from the bands who established the genre (and clearly inspire their playing) begin to retire.

Iron Maiden

As the stage crew performed their duties, shrouded behind a mysterious black curtain, the atmosphere in the venue steadily climbed, zeppelin-like, toward the sky. The scent of beer and hot dogs pervaded the air and such was the excitement that even the quick line checks on the guitars and vocals brought cheers from the enthusiastic crowd. As the opening strains of UFO’s ‘Doctor Doctor’ tantalised the ears of the waiting crowd, the sense of euphoria and anticipation reached the stratosphere.

The lights dimmed and ‘Satellite 15’ began. Frenetically flashing red lights and on-screen video melted with the surreal, progressive music, masking the removal of the black curtain and the reveal of the set. Behind the flashing red lights, all that could be seen of the set was a dark back cloth, studded with the pinprick lights of stars – a thousand points of light. This was mirrored in the crowd with the pale glow from mobile phones and digital cameras, ready to record the moment for posterity – or possibly for YouTube. (Good luck to Motorpoint with enforcing their ‘no cameras or recording devices’ policy!)

As the band crashed into ‘The Final Frontier’, the stage lights illuminated a set which can best be described as ‘retro-futuristic’ with white ‘communication’ towers either side and a grey semicircle which suggests a 2001-style satellite (labelled ‘S-15’ as a clear nod to the opening track). The starscape remained illuminated throughout tracks from The Final Frontier, though a number of dropcloths were used throughout the show to support and occasionally introduce the more classic Maiden tracks.  Throughout ‘The Final Frontier’ and the second song (‘El Dorado’) Steve Harris commanded the stage with his signature stance, using his bass like a rifle and pretending to shoot crowd members.  Janick Gers rested his heel upon the edge of the set as if he was stretching out his hamstring – and, judging by the marathon he proceeded to run on the Motorpoint stage, this is, most likely, exactly what he was doing!

The first of the old classics ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’ brought the crowd to a frenzy, desperately shouting ‘Two! Minutes! To midnight!’ as they press toward the stage. Dickenson strikes a good balance with this song, bringing the crowd in and allowing them to feel a part of the moment, while still singing most of the song himself.  It can be a temptation for bands as well established as Maiden (with a strong fan base who know their music) to allow their vocalist to become somewhat lazy and let the crowd sing most of their well-known songs – yet Dickenson remains in control the entire time.

‘The Talisman’ could easily become a muddy mess through the jangling, occasionally discordant beginning; however, Nico’s skilful drumming keeps the song moving forward and somehow the discord and non-standard timing… just works. It proves that Maiden are willing to keep changing, keep pushing themselves as musicians, keep progressing – rather than simply sticking to a tried and true formula.  ‘The Talisman’ also shows off Dickenson’s low bass range, proving that – despite being known for his screaming, soprano-like falsetto, he can provide just as much power in the bellows of the basement.

The first song introduced by Dickenson was ‘Coming Home’. He explained that whenever they go on a world tour, they always fly the same way – so that they are ‘coming home’. Dickenson again strikes a balance with the crowd – the audience feels as if it is a part of the Maiden community, with millions of people worldwide, without bordering on the cheese exhibited by other musicians who can often come across as a motivational speaker in their crowd interactions! Dickenson also assured the crowd – to wild applause – that, despite the album and tour being named The Final Frontier, Iron Maiden are not retiring.

For this reviewer, personally, the gig was really kick started as Iron Maiden revealed the dropcloth for and spoken introduction sample to ‘Dance of Death’.  The stage darkened to create a mysterious mood and Dickenson was illuminated in pink and orange dancing lights that suggested a mystical fire. The first tempo change in this song seemed to be slower than other live recordings of the song; however, this was very effective as it allowed for more time to establish the story and atmosphere. This was the first song in the set that was highly theatrical and Dickenson’s storytelling skills were ably supported by  the lighting – dramatically ending with Dickenson ‘blowing away’ the spirits, at which point the gold faded from the lighting palette and the band were bathed in blue light, throwing larger-than-life shadows against the dropcloth.

As the final strains of ‘Dance of Death’ faded, the dropcloth for ‘The Trooper’ was revealed. The audience’s raucous cheer was the entire introduction Maiden needed – the iconic, harmonised opening, perfectly synchronised, blasted throughout the arena as all four guitarists took centre stage. Dickenson’s mid-song costume change into classical British military regalia, along with triumphant waving of larger-than-life Union flags charged the atmosphere further and created a fevered air of celebration.

The dropcloth which suggests ‘The Wickerman’ was next to be revealed behind the set – and, again, the cheers of the crowd careened into the introduction. Strong, chugging guitars from Adrian Smith and Dave Murray drove the song forward, train-like, and built a bridge which brought the tempo down from ‘The Trooper’ to…

‘Blood Brothers’. Dramatically drenched in blood-red lighting and sentimentally introduced by referencing recent tragedies in Oslo and Japan, a sense of togetherness was created – without relying on references to an ‘army’ of fans, as so many other bands do. Bringing 13,500 people together in a sense of belonging and collective identity should be challenging – however, the anthemic chorus passionately delivered by all members of the band – and belted by all members of the crowd – created a sense of unity and wholeness which was reinforced by mobile phones being held high, swaying in time – the modern version of swinging a lighter in the air!

The final song of the slower portion of the programme takes the audience back to The Final Frontierwith ‘When the Wild Wind Blows’. Already feeling banded together from ‘Blood Brothers’, the band now creates a sense of intimacy during the plaintive atmosphere of the introduction, with precision harmony from the guitars and bass. So many Maiden songs are unfathomably complex, with riffs that intertwine like ivy and gallop faster and more frenetically than a racehorse. ‘When the Wild Wind Blows’ is the opposite – the simplicity of the guitars and vocals evokes a feeling of emptiness, innocence and sorrow backed by a thinly veiled passion. Inspired by the graphic novel ‘When the Wind Blows’ (which details the tragic subject of radiation poisoning from nuclear fallout), the lyrics overbrim with human emotion – sympathy, terror, pity, heartache. The circular nature of the song creates a sense of finality and though the themes fit into the futuristic ‘Final Frontier’ concept, there is a terrifying premonition that this could, one day soon, be very real. The audience becomes still, almost unmoving as the song concludes, before exploding with excitement for…

‘The Evil That Men Do’. Following the dramatically harmonised introduction, all guitarists – while energetic before – start to really come out of their shells. As I watch the musicians dashing back and forth across the stage, I can’t help but wonder if, like Michael Flatley of Lord of the Dance, the musicians in Maiden lose half a stone of body weight in each performance.

As the band ‘winds up’ to play ‘Fear of the Dark’, again, the tempo of the introduction felt more in keeping with the studio version than with live versions – however, as soon as the distortion kicked in with Dickenson’s powerful scream, the band returned to the delirious pace with which they had bombarded the rest of the set. This is the second piece which was highly theatrical and skilled camera work from the crew displayed Dickenson’s exaggerated facial expressions to the arena. Dashing back and forth upon the top of the set, he was upstaged by the appearance of the robotic ‘Eddie’ who arrived onstage to boisterous cheers. Gers took the opportunity to spend the remainder of the song repeatedly running between Eddie’s legs and around his back – to the great amusement of the crowd – which was emphasised by the display of the ‘Eddie Cam’, which gave the audience a clear point-of-view shot from Eddie’s perspective. Adrian Smith’s solo was delivered with a gargantuan grin as he leaned over the crowd, holding his guitar off to one side.  During this song in particular, it was obvious that the musicians in Iron Maiden love what they do and are genuinely thankful to their fans – who ensure that they have the best job in the world.

Ending the main set on the iconic ‘Iron Maiden’, the tumultuous pace continued. Gers, in particular, swung his guitar around his neck, played under his arm and behind his back, all while constantly dancing his way around the stage, his intricate footwork highlighted by his white trainers, aglow from the blacklights –all without missing a note.  Harris’s hands seem to positively fly around the neck of his bass, plucking the strings faster than the speed of sound. Through the lens of the onstage camera, his hands seemed like two spiders that had taken several amphetamines and then had a spider-sized cup of coffee. Eddie made another appearance here – this time as a larger-than-life animatronic creature who arose from behind the set and perused the arena, surveying the audience and band. Finishing on a legendary crash ending, McBrain shows his true skills, circling his oversized kit at a deranged pace, which was reflected by the electrical storm of lighting. As the guitarists threw their plectrums to the crowd, McBrain his drumsticks and Dickenson his sweat-covered hat (ew), the arena became a lion that roared for more.

Personally, I find the notion of encores irritating. The audience knows that the band has more songs – the band knows they have more songs – just play them! However, it has now become an expected convention of live music that headlining bands leave, wait for a shout and then come back to finish the set. Maiden judged the timing effectively, returning to stage after letting the tension build but not after so long that the audience lost momentum.
The first encore, ‘The Number of the Beast’ garnered high accolades from the crowd, complete with dramatic red lighting and an animatronic devil who crouched threateningly upon the set. Dickenson again proved his legendary lung capacity with his striking, theatrical scream that bridges the introduction and the main riff.  Straddling monitors in their symbolic poses, Maiden reaped more commendation from the crowd. From above, the sea of arms, clapping, waving, pulsating toward the stage, in time with the vigorous beat of the drums and bass, was reminiscent of the surface of an alien planet and reflected the earlier, futuristic theme of the evening.

The second encore, ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ was simply phenomenal. The passion in Bruce’s voice belies the terror of a man about to die, questioning God’s existence and motives. Similarly passionate playing creates the atmosphere of terror, placing the audience into the perspective of the persona of the song. More behind-the-back playing, swinging, twirling in circles from all band members encouraged an already enthusiastic crowd – they must have played the song thousands of times, yet still make it seem fresh, which shows the respect they have for their fans. Though the band has repeatedly played this song, each gig is someone’s first Maiden experience and for that reason, the band keeps their performances special. (Besides, if I had written a song as epic as ‘Hallowed’, I would want to play it thousands of times too!)

Happy, bouncy positivity ends the encore with the feel-good ‘Running Free’ and it is pleasing to see that, after so many years, Dickinson still introduces the band, giving everyone a time to shine. Metronomic drums and bass keep the rhythm going as the guitars and vocals seem to almost play, child-like, over the top.  Laughter and merriment reign throughout the dancing audience as the song finishes and the band retreat offstage – genuinely, this time.
As the exiting audience is reminded to ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, I personally left with a buoyed spirit – with metal in my heart and tinnitus in my ears.

Melissa Adams

5 Responses to “Iron Maiden w/Airbourne @ Motorpoint Arena [Live Review]”

  1. Great review! However, as a fellow attendee of this show I feel the need to point out that Airbourne didn’t play ‘Chewin’ The Fat’ and in fact played ‘Steel Town’ instead on this occasion. The full setlist can be found here:

    http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/airbourne/2011/motorpoint-arena-sheffield-england-43d0af1b.html

    I submitted it. Based on my own memory of the show and from what I’ve seen reported from other reviews, I am fairly certain that the order of the songs is also correct.

  2. Sorry about that! I’m not
    Very familiar with Airbourne’s music so was relying on the set list from the previous night (as the Sheffield one hadn’t posted when I submitted my review) and scribbled notes with headings like ‘first song’ and ‘sounds country-. Cheers for the correction dude 🙂

  3. Some really choice content on this site, saved to fav.

  4. Hoyt Hladek Says:

    I like this post, enjoyed this one thanks for posting .

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