On 2 August I had the pure, unadulterated pleasure of seeing Iron Maiden play in Belfast. It’s the third time I’ve seen the heavy metal giants live and, as always, the show didn’t disappoint for even a moment. In fact, the rock veterans have taken their show to new, unprecedented levels and the band now has few peers for theatre, spectacle and live performance. Indeed, I can think of few rock contemporaries capable of coming close to matching Maiden as a live act.
In observing this greatness, I couldn’t help but contrast Maiden’s near flawless, uber-polished set with the first time I’d seen them: 1996 at Belfast’s now decommissioned Maysfield Leisure Centre. Don’t get me wrong. Maiden were fantastic that evening as well, but their more recent outing as part of the Legacy of the Beast World Tour was a simply tremendous gig: loud and raucous, but also wonderfully melodic and lyrical as well.
That Maysfield concert seems like a world away in contrast. The modestly sized venue wasn’t even full to capacity and that tour happened during Maiden front man Bruce Dickinson’s six year absence from the band. Dickinson’s replacement, Blaze Bayley, is a decent enough singer but he’s no Bruce.
Indeed, the recent gig illustrates perfectly the profound wisdom of Bruce rejoining the band in 1999, alongside Adrian Smith. Call it providence, chemistry or whatever you fancy, but Maiden are infinitely better with Bruce at the helm. The band’s spectacular and consistent ascendancy since Dickinson’s return to the fold is no mere coincidence. He is among the most eminent front men in the business, possessing one of the most recognisable and powerful voices in rock.
All the fan favourites were there: The Trooper, The Number of The Beast and Fear of The Dark. The set also included a few curve balls and some numbers that hadn’t seen the light of day in a while; notably Sign of The Cross and The Flight of Icarus. The stage and light shows are as spectacular as ever. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the overall show has ever been stronger. There’s no doubt anyone unfamiliar with Maiden’s canon could enjoy this show without needing much of a reference point in terms of the music.
But what makes it all work so majestically is the band itself. Steve Harris still gallops around stage like a man possessed, keeping it all neatly together. Maiden’s three guitarists, moreover, are a joy to behold; working seamlessly in perfect sync and harmony. They literally never miss a beat and any group would be lucky to have them, especially the brilliant Smith. Bruce, as we know, does performance and showmanship every bit as well as poignancy; while the evergreen Nicko is perhaps the unsung hero of the piece. Individually these guys are undoubtedly supremely talented. Collectively they are simply mesmeric!
What’s even more impressive is that Maiden can still perform at this level despite having so many miles on the clock. Even the baby of the band-Bruce-has just turned sixty, after all (how wonderful to see him looking so well after his recovery from illness). When any band has been around this long, it’s inevitable, however, that questions are asked about how much longer they can continue. Sure, we’ve been asking that about the Stones for what seems a lifetime! Fans will hope that one of the best bands around has plenty left in the tank. There’s no doubt Maiden have much more to offer and some modern acts could learn a thing or two from the masters about giving fans what they want. How long can Maiden go on for? On the evidence of the Belfast show, they’ll be around for a while yet!