Saturday, March 22, 2008

1884 words about seeing Iron Maiden at the Meadowlands 3/14/2008

It's 4:18AM and I have to work in less than three hours. There are probably a few typos still left (that I'll clean up soon), but I wanted to get this online ASAP because today Maiden tickets for the summer at Madison Square Garden go on sale. And I wanted to give you all that extra push to do yourself a favor and see Iron Maiden this summer!

The text came Thursday afternoon: "My date for the SOLD OUT Iron Maiden show tomorrow had to cancel. Do you want to go?"

Hell yes! I had to work here in Philly that day til 5 and again the next morning at 8AM. But there was nothing that was gonna stop me from hoping on a train to New Jersey right after work, meeting with E, driving to the Meadowlands right across the river from New York, rocking the fuck out, and then getting the first train at 6AM Saturday morning to get back to Philadelphia in time for work. This was do or die...and I knew they were gonna open with "Aces High"!

I'd wanted to go to this show from the first moment i heard about it. But without a car, getting to the Meadowlands is difficult at best. None of my Philly friends had cars or the money to spare to go to the show. And at least originally, E's date was supposed to be a romantic one (does it get much hotter than taking someone to a Maiden show? I think not!) So I would've been the third wheel, if I'd tried to go with her and her date.

But fortunately, for me at least, the date fell prey to unfortunate circumstances so a ticket and a ride suddenly appeared and I jumped at the chance to see the world's greatest metal band.

This Meadowlands show was at the venue formerly known as the Brendan Byrne Arena. It has since gone through a number of corporate names which I don't want to utter. Maiden had played the Meadowlands many times before. And this particularly show was actually one of only 2 US dates on this leg. On this "Somewhere Back in Time" tour, the band was hopping the globe in a custom 757 ("the Ed Force One") with singer Bruce Dickinson in the pilot's seat, the band's named painted on the sides, and their "mascot" Eddie painted on the tail. Seriously, when he's not being a rock star Bruce pilots charter jets. The itinerary went San Juan, one night to East Rutherford New Jersey two days later. . From the warmly exotic to the cold industrial garden state wastes.

Up until show time, no other East Coast dates had been announced. They'd be back in the US in June playing the shed-n-lawn circuit. I figured they'd probably include Philly on this unannounced itinerary, but I couldn't be sure. But I WAS sure I needed to see Maiden. And seeing Maiden in a dirty old venue where they'd been playing since the 1st half of the 80s was more appealing than seeing them in a 90s-era shed-n-lawn that was interchangeable with 50 other venues in the country. And of course I'd ALSO go see them in the shed-n-lawn if given the opportunity in the summer months.

When we arrived in the Meadowlands parking lot, we saw exactly what you'd expect: a lot of men from early 20s to middle age huddled around their cars, drinking beer and blasting Maiden from their stereos. And of course about 70 percent of everyone in the lot and inside the venue was wearing a Maiden t-shirt.

Getting to the arena was quite a trek. From the lot we were funneled on foot into a corrugated metal tunnel that was as wide as a two lane road. I don't know what it took us over. A highway? A new stadium under construction? In hindsight, this quarter mile tunnel was odd. But I was too focused on the light at the end of the tunnel to think too much about it.
(The light being Maiden, of course.)

The show was opened by a set by Lauren Harris, this singer daughter of Maiden bassist/founder Steve Harris. I think she only got the slot by pure nepotism.

She ran around the stage for 30 minutes barefoot wearing black latex pants that looked painted on. Her set was upbeat power-pop. A bit of hard rock, but no real metal. She might have been pretty, I couldn't tell from our middle-distance seats. So being up front, there might have been stimulation for the hetero males against the rails. But I missed out on all that. All I could see was the exaggerated movements of her string-men. They all seemed very high on imaginary rock star status. Though she did fall off-key more than once, her set wasn't painful. But I'm still glad it was brief.

Before Maiden came out, a New York DJ for a rock station came out to plug his show and get the crowd warmed up. His microphone was up painfully loud. I prayed it wouldn't be up that loud for Bruce's patented "Air Raid Siren" vocals. We'd all have bleeding eardrums if it was.

This DJ started a Maiden chant that got pretty loud, but then some non-descript rock music was turned back up on the PA, killing the momentum. I really wanted to be a part of 5 minutes of "Maiden! {clap clap] Maiden! [clap clap]" leading up to the band's entrance. But some forgettable CD made this impossible.

In the interim, I went out into the hall and laid down $35 for the only official concert t-shirt I've ever bought at any show. It was steep. It kinda hurt. But the graphics were great- the front is the cover of my favorite Maiden LP, "Somewhere in Time" with the 2008 dates on the back and a very vividly colored Ccyborg Eddie. I knew I'd kick myself if I didn't get one. So I instead got to kick myself for spending so much money. Sometimes you can't win.

Around 9, the house lights dimmed. The PA started playing UFO's "Doctor, Doctor" a 70s hard rock song that was very influential on Maiden. It's served as the "get ready" music for every tour I've seen.

From my seat, Janick's side (stage left) even with the end of the stage I could see some of backstage. I could see the band in the wings as the song played. Janick jumped up and down, dancing, loosing up. He probably ties with Bruce for putting on the most athletic show during a Maiden set. And since 1999 with 3 guitars in the band, Janick has been freed up to be even more athletic, twirling his guitar around and using it as more of a prop than an instrument. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith are there so Maiden can still hold down the patented dual lead guitar attack. And the near constant below it all is founder Steve Harris' galloping bass.

After the UFO song, the two video screens to the sides of the stagelit up with footage of screaming fans against the rail and footage from the aforementioned Ed Force One. The band all seemed to be having a great time in the video clips. I'm sure they come away from every tour with a chunk of change, but I still get the feeling that they honestly have a blast doing it.

The footage then turned black and white, showing British WWII newsreel footage. Just as at the beginning of the "Live After Death" album Winston Churchill's voice came on, giving us all the pep talk for Britons to hunker down and support the effort against the Nazi's. "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be." And just as Winston said "We shall never surrender!" the first note of "Aces High" hit.

With a blast of light and the show was ON!

"There goes the siren that warns of the air raid!" screamed me and 16,000 other rabid fans along with Bruce. For about the next two hours solid it was all fists in the air and singing along. At the end of "Aces," Bruce did a high jump at the end of the stage that was worthy of a Youth of Today show! He showed that despite being middled-aged, he's in great shape.

This was the "Somewhere Back in Time" tour. As the name suggests, this was a retro tour. The setlist focused on mid 80s classics. In the past, Maiden has always played a lot of material off whatever new album they were supporting. This bias towards new material peaked with their previous tour. When I saw them in 2006, they opened the show by playing their entire 70-minute "A Matter of Life and Death" album from start until finish.

I love that album and thought it was a great show. But there were a lot of fans who shouted "play some old stuff!" and seemed to wish it could be eternally 1985, 86, 87, 88. And honestly, I'd have loved to see Maiden back then too. And this 2008 tour was the next best thing. With one exception every song played at the Meadowlands saw its original release on a 1980s album. And the stage set was mostly made up of element of the "World Slavery-Powerslave- 84-85" tour that spawned the Live After Death double LP.

The setlist was designed to make the entire crowd hoarse the next day. There were no clunkers. It was all-pleasing. And Bruce didn't miss any opportunities to encourage the crowd between (and during) songs. As with nearly every Maiden tour I've seen, there was a raised platform in a U shape behind the band with its wings jutting out on both sides of the stage. With a wireless mic, Bruce went all over the platform, acting as the ultimate cheerleader, pointing to different sections and raising his arms to get them all riled up.

Despite being the front man, Bruce had the worse fashion in the band. His look on this tour is kind of post-apocalyptic, ll patched together. As he has for the last few tours, he wore horrible black pants that looked like they were made from a hundred trash bags woven together. The many flaps of his leggings hung like the feathers of an oil spill seagull.
The only time I liked was he was wearing, was when he donned a redcoat uniform and grabbed a Union Jack for "the Trooper"

Bruce was also the only one in the band not wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt and the only one in the band with short hair. Despite the trends within the ranks of the elder statesmen of metal, everyone else in Maiden has kept his mane.

Janick was the only one in the band with white sneakers and he also was wearing the tightest pants, not counting the spandex shorts of Nicko the drummer. With the exception of Bruce, everyone in the band looked "conservatively metal"--- simple black--- t shirts and jeans. No cod pieces, spikes, or make-up.

Adrian Smith on guitar seemed to have lost a little weight since the last tour looking a bit more like his thin 80s version. While Maiden has never been a bunch of lookers, in my book Adrian still maintains the title of "most handsome Maiden." And Nicko is still dead last in the running.

Adrian also had a peace symbol sticker on one of his guitars. Despite its incongruity within a metal band that has a repertoire made up mostly of songs about war and battles, I thought it was a great statement. Below all the belligerent graphics, runs a lyrical theme of the futility of war. And as Bruce said on the "A Real Live One" album "just to make a mental note...war is bullshit. The people who make people go to war are usually politicians and the people that get killed are usually ordinary people." But Maiden has never been a very political band. They just aspire to be a fun band that taps into the testosterone and aggressive impulses of men. But in the end, they don't mean anyone any harm.

Maiden taps into something inside me. And I stayed riled up for the whole show. I didn't think once about sitting down or using the restroom. I knew almost every word uttered from the stage and I sang/screamed along about 70% of the time. And fortunately, I had a seat on an aisle, so I had an extra little bit of rock-out room. A few times I did almost rock out TOO hard and tripped back against the concrete step behind me.

The sound from our seats was a bit echoey. But that's to be expected at a 16,000 seat sports arena made of concrete and steel.

With our seats to the side of the stage near the front corner we got a bit of sound from the PA stacks facing forward and the ones to the side of the stage. The high volume bouncing off the floor, the ceiling, and the metalhead bodies made for a bit of an aural mess at times. Occasionally elements of the music seemed to fall out of time with one another. Listening back to the sound on amateur videos of the evening that are posted on youtube, it seems this occasional lack-of-togetherness was the fault of our seat positions and the uncomplimentary acoustics of the venue. The videos proved the band to be totally together at every moment captured.

The bad acoustics are kind of part of the fun, though. The continual awareness of the cavernous expanse of the venue reminded me that this was a huge show. And a huge show feels like an EVENT, a ceremony, something important. It's a whole different feel from seeing a band in a small, intimate venue that holds only a few hundred and has better acoustics.

I'd love to see Maiden in a tiny club, where I could hear and see every element clearly, but it takes 16,000 fans singing along to the "woah-oh-oh- woah-oh-oh-oh-ohhh-oh-oh-oh-woah-oh..." part of "Heaven Can Wait." to make it seem like an EVENT. I take pride in my idiosyncrasies and individualism but I love being a part of a huge unison mass from time to time. And Maiden provides a great opportunity for it.

A Maiden show is always light-hearted. Bruce also exhibits a self-deprecating humor between songs. This time around he kept doing a forgetful old man routine that got a little old after a while: "What? You're still here? Oh...where are we again?" etc. I was glad though that near the show's beginning he called the name "Izod Center" silly and simply called it "the Meadowlands" for the rest of the set.

A few times, the screens on the side of the stage caught Bruce looking out of it. He spent a lot of the show in a gray t-shirt that was soaked through with sweat. A few times he seemed out of breath. But running the length of an arena stage while singing and being nearly 50 is no easy feat. With the less than perfect acoustical conditions, it's difficult to say whether Bruce is fully living up to the hype that his voice is "as good now as it was in the mid 80s." At the Meadowlands, there seemed to be a few times when Bruce screamed words that he used to annunciate clearly at high pitches. But over all I'd say it's safe to say that Bruce has at least 80% of the range and power he had in 1985. And it didn't sound like the band had to drop pitches down to accommodate voice changes (unlike another British band that recently got together in another arena to play a bunch of old songs...)

If Maiden did the "classics" setlist format MY way, there wouldn't be any of the classic yet overplayed songs that were scattered throughout the Meadowlands show: "Trooper," "Run to the Hills" "Iron Maiden" "Number of the Beast" and "Hallowed Be Thy Name." They're all great songs but I've heard them at every other Maiden show I've been to. But nothing is ideal, and I sound like an ungrateful bastard saying oh "couldn't the best metal band in the world have played something OTHER than the 'Trooper.'" They may be over-played but can you ever go wrong with any of those songs? No.

And of course, this wasn't everyone's 5th Maiden show. If you're seeing Maiden for the first time (as I'm sure a lot of people at the Meadowlands were) you probably really want to hear all those songs that the veteran hardcore fans deem "overplayed."

And there were plenty of rarities to balance out the set: the "Aces High" opener, "Wasted Years," the epic "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (complete with dry ice and firework-explosions above the stage in time with the beats and "Moonchild" in the encore. And during the oft-played "Iron Maiden" theme song, a robotic cyborg "Eddie" came on stage straight from the Somewhere in Time album cover to battle Janick

Janick responded to the "threat" by switching to a wireless guitar that apparently was designed to take a beating. He thrust it continually at the robotic monster Eddie as part of a brief and deliciously cheesy melee.

Despite the sinister nature of most of their graphics, a Maiden show is really uplifting fun for everyone involved. Maiden is a surprisingly catchy sounding band. A lot of people unfamiliar with the band don't know that. I think the band gets judged a lot by their many dark and violent designs (courtesy of artist Derek Riggs) for record covers, posters, and t-shirts. Until the age of 14, all I knew of the band was their graphics and the song "No Prayer For the Dying" that I had on a 1991 Epic Records promo compilation that I got from sending in cereal box tops.

I was both afraid and intrigued by the image of Maiden for my entire youth even though I'd barely heard them. I was surprised
when I bought my first Maiden album, out of curiosity, that they were so melodic. I expected guttural, indecipherable vocals, breakneck velocity, and bone-crushing heaviness. But I was even happier with what I actually got from the band. (And soon enough I was able to find other avenues to satisfy my semi-articulated desire for truly evil-sounding music.)

Iron Maiden have a lot of songs that you can hear the first time and be singing along by the final chorus. A lot of their songs have an anthemic quality to them. Their 90s and 00s material is a bit darker and more introverted but at the Meadowlands they only did the 80s, with the exception of 1992's "Fear of the Dark"--- the most recent song that it seems ALL Maiden fans can agree is a classic. It's also very anthemic and conducive to singing along both in words and "oh"'s.

I could run through a song by song analysis of the set, but that would probably be too tedious. It is worth noting that with 3 guitars in the band now, the subtle off-stage keyboard parts that have crept into the repertoire since 1986 were often played at the Meadowlands on a 6 string by one of the guitarists. I couldn't tell for sure if "Heaven Can..." and "Fear..." stillused keyboards, but the prominent keyboard opening of the "Moonchild" encore was definitely done by a guitar.

Perhaps after 25 years Maiden could again live up to the promise they made on the inner sleeve of their Piece of Mind LP: "no synthesizers or ulterior motives."

For the fifth time since 1999 Maiden provided me with a loud night that was the perfect balance of heavy-yet-catchy songs, musical skill, clever lyrics, theatrics, explosions, and athletic "put your hands in the air!" showmanship.

Here's the set list. And posted below it are clips of every single song from the show (about 2 hours if you watch it all!) Since it's all covert amateur footage, the clarity isn't optimum, but the shaky, grainy, crowd-noise-filled clips capture the excitement of the night.

They're coming back again in June.

tickets for Madison Square Garden 6/15 go on sale today (3/22)
and tickets for Camden 6/17 go on sale 3/29

Get excited.

Up the Irons!

set list from the Meadowlands 3/14/2008:

1. Churchill's Speech / Aces High (from 'Powerslave' – 1984)

2. 2 Minutes to Midnight (from 'Powerslave' – 1984)

3. Revelations (from 'Piece Of Mind' – 1983)

4. The Trooper (from 'Piece Of Mind' – 1983)

5. Wasted Years (from 'Somewhere In Time' – 1986)

6. The Number of the Beast (from 'Number Of The Beast' – 1982)

7. Run to the Hills (from 'Number Of The Beast' – 1982)

8. Rime of the Ancient Mariner (from 'Powerslave' – 1984)

9. Powerslave (from 'Powerslave' – 1984)

10. Heaven Can Wait (from 'Somewhere In Time' – 1986)

11. Can I Play With Madness? (from 'Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son' –1988)

12. Fear of the Dark (from 'Fear Of The Dark' – 1992)

13. Iron Maiden (from 'Iron Maiden' – 1980)

14. Moonchild (from 'Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son' – 1988)

15. The Clairvoyant (from 'Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son' – 1988)

16. Hallowed Be Thy Name (from 'Number Of The Beast' – 1982)

video intro>Churchill>Aces High:

2 minutes to midnight


The Trooper

Wasted Years

Number of the Beast

Run to the Hills

Rime of the Ancient Mariner pt 1

Rime pt 2


Heaven Can Wait

Can I Play With Madness

Fear of the Dark

Iron Maiden



Hallowed Be Thy Name

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

a brief, yet heartfelt, 242 words about Gustav Holst's "the Planet," opus 32

I'm very psyched about seeing the Philadelphia Orchestra performing Gustav Holst's "the Planets" tonight at the Kimmel Center. It was written in the early 19 'teens (first performed 1918)

Contact me if you're interested in coming along. The performance is at 8pm. You'll need to meet me at the kimmel box off by 5pm to get $10 rush tickets (one per person allowed.)

Here are my two favorite sections of the 7-part piece

Mars, the Bringer of War
after the Japanese intro, the music starts at 0:53
This is one of the most tense, angry pieces of
orchestral music out there. I love the insistent
rhythmic phrases first tapped out by the low strings
(it begins with the triplet) and the apocalyptically
doomy end with time almost standing still as the tempo
slows to a crawl and the orchestra crushes the

Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity:

In contrast to the cathartic anger of "Mars" Jupiter
is one of the most joyous orchestral pieces I've heard
(as the subtitle implies.) My favorite part is the
very "stately" slow waltz that starts at 1:43 with the
melody played by the lower brass and then soon
speeding up as the melody becomes lighter and more
staccato, literally flying away into the high
register. That part around 1:43 (and the reprise of it
near the end) is one of the few pieces of music that
often makes me cry. Happy tears. Flooded with emotion

And this section of "Jupiter" is the source for one of
my favorite "over taken" by the music stories. It was
reported that during the 9/28/1918 premier of the work
"the effect upon the small audience was intense---and
in the halls, during the playing of 'Jupiter,'
char-women were said to have set aside their scrubbing
to dance with each other."
The image of these working class downtrodden
cleaning women in Cheltenham, England throwing down
their mops and saying "fuck it, let's dance!" is so
beautiful. I think of it every time I hear this
section and I think it's what prompts the waterworks.

I think that music is the most powerful spiritual
force in the human world. And this is an example of
its power, at least to my non-denominational ears.

And at 6:47 in "Jupiter" the tambourine technique is
great. I'd actually never seen a close up of how the
sound was achieved until I saw this clip.

I enjoyed the Japanese characters and slight
out-of-sync nature of the video/soundtrack combo. It
gave the clips an otherworldly exoticism.

The other 5 sections are great too, but I'd be lying
if I didn't say they don't quite live up to the
intense rhythmic and melodic power of "Mars" and