Saturday, February 23, 2008

Aces High

"Fly to live, do or die..."

Umlaut is a Music Geek by birth, but a Metalhead at heart. As longtime readers know, I've ranted about Iron Maiden in this space numerous times. I worshiped them in the 20th Century as a teenage geek and I still worship them in the 21st Century as an old fart; they timelessly embody musicianship and intelligence like few other bands. After 30+ years, Maiden still flips the bird to mainstream music while selling out stadiums and arenas around the world... Plus, there is no band that's more badass than Maiden:

Umlaut likes his Rock Stars to be mythical and larger than life; Maiden have always been both.

When it was announced that Maiden would be embarking on their most extensive World Tour in over 20 years, an Umlaut road trip was a no-brainer. The only North American shows on the initial leg of the tour were Los Angeles, Toronto, and New York.. So L.A. was marked on Umlaut's calendar 5 months ago.

The day before I went down to L.A. the skater kid who lives across the street from Casa de Umlaut was riding his deck and wearing a Powerslave shirt; up until that moment I thought he was a member of the Hip Hop Nation. Maybe he is, but at least he has one cool t-shirt. I took this as a sign of what lay ahead for me.

Umlaut and Timo's Metal Road Trip got off to a rough start when our flight outta SFO was delayed 2 1/2 hours... The flight to L.A. is usually 1 hour. You do the math.. Long story short, we arrived in L.A. 4 hours after we left Casa de Umlaut.

That night Timo and I ventured out with Mark D. to a pub called The Fox And Hounds, where the service was slow but at least they pulled an acceptable pint of Guinness. Of course, no visit to L.A. would be complete without some Hair Metal content, and our's came in the form of Don Dokken sitting at the pub's bar. Umlaut has never been a Dokken fan and, if I hadn't pussed out, I would have offered to buy him a drink "in his dreams". It should be noted that the former Hair Metal God was out on the town wearing sweat pants here in the 21st Century. I suppose fringed leather pants are out of style now, right?

Umlaut wasn't the only Old Metalhead to make the pilgrimage to SoCal for Maiden: The next morning Timo, Mark D., and I had an epic Old Metal breakfast with Old Metal Braverman and his buddy from Phoenix and Old Chicago Metal Paschke. The war stories that were shared over eggs, sausage, oatmeal, toast, orange juice, and coffee were the stuff of legend! Kidz these days don't even fucking know.

Ironically, this Metal Summit took place mere minutes from where Tour Manager Doug ("TMD") calls home. Unfortunately, TMD was on tour in Europe, but Umlaut called his cell phone anyway and TMD was able to share the Old Metal moment from Brussels, Belgium. Technology! Ironically, the conversation at the breakfast table had started around Michael Schenker and TMD said he happened to be wearing a vintage Michael Schenker Group t-shirt at that very moment. Old Metal: Is there anything it can't do? Hail, my Metal Bruthas!

Circles of life... Things that I was involved with and obsessed about 25+ years ago all came to fruition during this 48 hours in SoCal. Profound circles of life all looped back at me through time and impaled themselves upon my current day reality. If you had told me in 1981 that I would be doing what I'm doing now to pay my mortgage I would have said "WTF?". Unfortunately, my NDA prevents me from divulging details... but this 48 hours in SoCal, while professionally frustrating at times, also had my head in Metal Geek overload at other moments.

Iron Maiden
The Forum, Los Angeles

February 19, 2008

The Forum. The Fabulous Forum... where KISS Alive II was recorded... where Keith Moon joined Zeppelin onstage.. etc. etc. Initially I thought it would be cool seeing a show at the venerable site... but in reality the place is a faded shell of its former glory. It's hard to believe that Umlaut is 4 years older than The Forum; hope I die before I get old.

As I guided the rental car through the concert traffic chaos, I asked for directions to the venue's "VIP" parking area where my name was supposed to be "on the list". Unfortunately, I ended up being sent to the "civilian" parking lot. WTF.. Luckily the teenage parking attendant collecting the $23 (!) parking fee didn't give a fuck, and after I told him I was looking for the VIP parking area he let us through the gate without paying. Thanks kid!

Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of the evening's clusterfuck. Will Call was an unbelievably disorganized nightmare where myself and my colleague were not on The List despite the fact the headliner's management had said we would be taken care of only hours before... I learned later that The Forum's box office staff seriously fucked up and reportedly even the manager of the only other Old Metal band that matters had trouble entering the venue. Ironically, it was the assistant to one of the headliner's guitarists wives (say that 3x fast) who helped my colleague and I to obtain our All Access. Cue the guitar solo in 'Powerslave' as tribute to our savior and to her employer's husband!

After wandering around backstage ala that scene from This Is Spinal Tap, I grabbed a beer from a backstage cooler and then ran into my Old Metal friend Brian who still runs the indie Metal label that he launched in 1982. I hadn't seen Brian in probably 15 years and we chatted like old war veterans recounting our common battlefield memories. Twas good to see him and it's cool that he's still a down to Earth dude despite his legendary music mogul status. Remember what I said earlier about circles of life looping back on me? This was one of them.

Geek Moment: Walking past Steve Harris in a hallway minutes before the band was due to take the stage.

One of the things I love about Maiden is their sense of tradition. Just like they did 25 years ago, the band still played UFO's 'Doctor Doctor' over the PA right before the houselights went down... and here in the 21st Century I will fully admit that I became a shrieking Maiden Geek as the 'Churchill's Speech' intro tape (accompanied by historical Battle Of Britain footage on the video screens) heralded the band storming onstage with 'Aces High' > '2 Minutes To Midnight'.. This will go down as one of my favorite moments of the year.

I know I'm not alone with what I'm about to say: Maiden fans of *my* generation worship the band's music from 1980-85... but many of us lost interest in Maiden around 1986 when they started to "experiment" with their sound (Synths!? WTF...) and produced songs that didn't hold up to the band's METAL classics. That being said, there's another generation of younger Maiden fans who grew up with the band during their sucky period. Here in 2008, for better or worse, Maiden's current tour celebrates the classics and the sucky from that time in their history.

Old School Good = 'Rime Of The Ancient Mariner' (all 12 epic minutes of it for the first time since the '85 Tour!). Old School Sucky = 'Can I Play With Madness'.

I hadn't seen Maiden play indoors with a General Admission floor since 1985; their last 3 tours have all played at annoying outdoor amphitheaters with reserved seating. GA = METAL. While I had Grouchy Old Man issues with a few songs in the setlist, I couldn't help but be inspired to see so many young kidz who were going nuts and who knew the lyrics to every song. Perhaps there's hope for the future after all.

Pyro during 'The Number Of The Beast'
(Pic by Umlaut)

That being said, I did feel let down that Maiden didn't play one song off the Killers album. WTF!? Damn you, Maiden.. Damn you for being the only band that Umlaut will still worship even when you disappoint me.

In another circle of life moment, Umlaut ended up watching the majority of Maiden's set from the soundboard. At one point I stood behind a Danish Drummer as he air drummed to 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'; it was kinda cute. Some kinda monster.

Rock Star Sightings: Scott Ian, Simon Wright, Robert Trujillo, Kerry King, Lars Ulrich, Ronnie James Dio. Note: I'm pretty sure my mom is taller than Dio.

Sighting That Only Maiden Geeks Will Appreciate:
Keith Wilfort.

There was a chick in the crowd who looked exactly like James Hetfield circa 1985 from the side (same hair, black leather jacket, jeans, etc). I didn't see her face but her resemblance to Hetfield from that angle tripped me out.. Ironically, the next day at LAX on my way home, I saw the same chick from the same angle near the Southwest Airlines counter and it tripped me out again; I still didn't see her face. Some kinda monster.

I didn't venture out into the arena's concourse, so I didn't do a Maiden merch audit. On the way back to the rental car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. I spent the next afternoon doing something that I never would have even considered possible in 1981.. but my NDA prevents me from divulging details. All I can say is he was how I imagined he would be, right down to the pot of tea.

Maiden... Always.

Oh... here's the setlist (sorry TMD):
  • Winston Churchill Speech Intro
  • Aces High
  • 2 Minutes to Midnight
  • Revelations
  • The Trooper
  • Wasted Years
  • The Number of the Beast
  • Can I Play with Madness
  • Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • Powerslave
  • Heaven Can Wait
  • Run to the Hills
  • Fear of the Dark
  • Iron Maiden
  • Moonchild
  • The Clairvoyant
  • Hallowed Be Thy Name