Monday, June 21, 2010

Blood Brothers

Iron Maiden
Sleep Train Pavilion, Concord, California
June 20, 2010

Umlaut's VIP Laminate
(color removed to make it harder for sneaky fucks to counterfeit)

It was a special occasion as Skychick was attending her first Maiden concert! According to the Umlaut Archives this was my 10th time seeing Maiden, so it was a landmark evening all around... However, prior to the show Skychick and I killed time in downtown Walnut Creek shopping at Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma... I know, NOT METAL. Then we met up with Scott, Photo Ray, and Sensory Abuse for some pre-Maiden food and beers at Pyramid Ale. Number of bootleg Maiden shirts at the bar = 1. Also, after our meal Sensory Abuse presented me with a vintage (1992) Maiden picture disc that I didn't have:

"Free Plinth" for display purposes

THANKS, brother! Umlaut loves picture discs long time.

Trivia: Umlaut only recently found out that Sleep Train Pavilion (originally called Concord Pavilion) was designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry…. Who knew, right? To be honest, it has to rank as one of Gehry’s minor efforts IMO. Just saying..

Given my past experience with the guest list at Maiden shows, I was pleasantly surprised that there was absolutely no drama at Will Call this time. However, the wait to enter the venue looked to be insanely long as thousands of Maiden fans lined up at the entrances for what seemed like miles... to which I said "Fuck that..." and we went looking for the back door way into The Metal. Long story short, we asked a security guy and, since we had the proper pass, he directed us to hop into a nearby golf cart... which sped us backstage faster than you could say "The Number Of The Beast".

The Golf Cart of The Beast..

As Dream Theater played their opening set we hung out in the Hospitality area with Robb Flynn and Umlaut Nation friends DeVito, Pam, and Nikki Blakk as various members of Maiden hung out or darted from their buses to the dressing rooms. We also had the chance to have a group chat with one of Maiden's long time crew guys about how it's hard to get a proper cup of tea made in The States (because Yanks don't understand the water must be BOILING HOT and not simply "Hot"..). Only time will tell, but I think the defining image of my Summer of 2010 just might be Dave Murray wearing a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip flops holding court backstage in Concord. He was running free... yeah... running free. As Maiden's start time neared we made our way to the soundboard and I had a sense of deja vu because DeVito and I had stood in the same spot for Maiden on the last tour... and here we were again. Metal.

For the newbies: Maiden has ALWAYS played the UFO song 'Doctor Doctor' over the PA right before they take the stage... and it still gives me chills when the intro to the song starts pumping from the speakers... and it was cool how alot of the crowd knew what the song meant as well. As the song's final notes rang out the house lights went off, the roar from the crowd went up a notch, and it was MAIDEN time. MAGIC! Reason #57 why I love Iron Maiden: Their sense of tradition. Longtime Maiden fans also know that the band (or rather Steve Harris) gets most of their inspiration for songs from either (1) History or (2) Literature / Films. Judging from the stage design and theme for this tour I would say the band (or rather Steve Harris) saw District 9... probably multiple times. The Geeks shall inherit The Earth!

Prior to the show there was alot of hating and debating online about the setlist on this tour and how it was weighted heavily towards more recent songs. Of course, one thing that The Internets has destroyed is the element of surprise; was "spoiler alert" even part of the English language 25 years ago?? The show opened with 'The Wicker Man' which is one of the band's best songs from the past decade... which was followed by 'Ghost Of Navigator' (which is an alright song from the past decade).... and then the crowd was rewarded with the nostalgic Old School rage of 'Wrathchild'! My Inner Teenage Metalhead approved... and at one point I pulled out my camera and noticed that the number of shots I had left was The Number Of The Beast:


The majority of the set was songs from albums that have been released since 2000. Yeah, some of the songs aren't as strong as "the old classics" but a couple like 'Blood Brothers' (dedicated to Ronnie James Dio) and 'These Colours Don't Run' are classic Maiden songs IMO. In fact, 'Blood Brothers' is a song that captures that geeky feeling of belonging that Metal has always given to Umlaut. Yeah, it's cheesy... Yeah, it's mellow dramatic... but the song translates the sense of belonging and commaraderie that my Inner Teenage Metalhead still appreciates. Sorry, I just don't see an Indie Rock Hipster having my back as effectively as a Metalhead.

Despite what people may have thought about the song selection, the power and performance of Maiden as a band is undeniable. They operate on another level compared to almost every Metal band, from their musicianship to their demeanor onstage. Maiden always look like they're having the time of their lives onstage and that's what makes them timeless and also why they have been my heroes for over half my life. Watching Maiden perform is life affirming because, despite the passing of almost 30 years (!) since I first saw them, they're still just as good as they were back in The Day.... and Steve Harris is still 1 of only 2 Rock Stars who I honestly give a shit about (the other one is Lemmy of course).

Pic courtesy of Photo Ray

As on tours past, the song 'Iron Maiden' ended the main set and it sounded extremely punchy and great tonight.... and speaking of "punchy" at one point during the song I felt someone hitting me on the shoulder repeatedly in time to the song. When I turned around it was Robb Flynn caught up in a Maiden frenzy and singing along. How METAL is that?! Umlaut NEVER sings at concerts, but I sing at Maiden; Skychick was shocked. "Iron Maiden can't be fought!! Iron Maiden can't be sought!"

The 2+ hour show ended strong with 'The Number Of The Beast' > 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' > 'Running Free'. There are certain moments in every Maiden show that *get me* every time... and 3 of those iconic moments happened during this song sequence:
  • During 'Number Of The Beast' as the guitar solos finish and Steve does his brief but iconic bass solo... It gets me every time.
  • Just as Bruce finishes the first verse of 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' (the line "The sands of time for me are running lowwwww....") and the band kicks in... Up to that moment Dave, Adrian, Steve, and Janick have stood near the backline... but as soon as Bruce hits that line and the song kicks in all 4 guitarists rush forward in unison to the front of the stage. It's like watching a bayonet charge... It gets me every time.
  • During 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' (and I've documented this moment in this space before)... During the last 1/4 of the song when Adrian and Dave go into their climatic breathtaking duel axe harmonies that bring the song to its conclusion... It gets me every time.
"Scream for me Concord!! Scream for me!!!"

'These Colours Don't Run' from the soundboard

The complaining about this tour's setlist is annoying to Umlaut. Yeah, I would have liked to have heard more old songs, but the band's last 2 tours in 2005 and 2008 were their "Greatest Hits" tours. Just saying... and just the chance to see Maiden perform should be reason enough for Metalheads to show up. If the recent passing of Ronnie James Dio taught us anything it's that Metalheads need to see their heroes at every possible opportunity. Maiden are as Old School Metal as it gets and no other band from their era is still as popular now as they were back in The Day (they drew 25,000 in L.A. the night before and a sold out crowd of 13,000 in Concord)... and no band from their era of Metal sells as much merch as Maiden either.. believe me.

Watching the band again here in the 21st Century I was fascinated how Janick and Dave still use cords with their guitars instead of wireless systems. Old School! Paying attention to where your guitarists' cords are onstage is a hazard most major bands never deal with anymore... but seeing a guitar physically tethered to amps on a big stage again was as quaint as it was nostalgic. Besides, without a guitar cord to flail around Janick couldn't mimick all of Ritchie Blackmore's old stage moves properly.

Thanks to DeVito for sharing the wealth!

Another aspect of the Iron Maiden mythos is their road crew. Ancient Maiden fans like Umlaut remember how Maiden not only credited their crew guys in tour programs, but also had their pictures featured as well... and since they had the same crew for every tour Maiden Geeks came to know who the crew guys were as well as the band members. This only magnified the sense of "family" that Maiden has always presented. From the fans to their crew.... we were all blood brothers. So, even after all these years, I can still be that Maiden Geek when I recognize an original Maiden crew guy.

Umlaut > Maiden's longtime soundman Doug Hall at work..

I didn't bother doing a merch audit... because Maiden were selling a shitload of it anyway. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. On the drive home I realized that I was in full-on Maiden Geek mode, which is something that has been part of my personality since I was, like, 16-years old. It's cool to have old Rock Star Heroes who can still turn me into a starstruck Metal Geek like that. Hope I die before I get old.

Maiden... Always.