07 Jan 2001 - Maiden Empire
What a way to kick off the New Year! In late 2000, I got the news that Iron Maiden would be playing a couple of concerts at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire in early January. Given that I hadn't seen the band since their appearance in Las Vegas, I was intrigued by the opportunity. A quick foray into travel arrangement planning yielded an affordable flight and hotel accommodations and my plans were set. As the year 2000 elapsed, I was counting the days down and on Thursday evening January 4th I made my way to the Airport in Atlanta for the British Airways flight to Gatwick. After an initial panic as I was quite late for my flight, the rest of the transit was very smooth. I woke up the next morning to discover that we were passing over Ireland and would shortly be landing at Gatwick airport. After a jaunt through customs and a quick ride on the Gatwick Express I was in the heart of London.
London has always been one of my favorite places on the planet for several reasons. First of all, it has a pulse unlike any other city. It's among the world leaders in business, commerce and entertainment while at the same time offering an excellent mix of old world charm and new world diversity in terms of people and of course the food! Most significantly, London is also the birthplace and home of the mighty and now legendary metal machine known as Iron Maiden. This is where Steve Harris grew up (in the city's East End) and formed the band. London is also home to many of the other members of the band, the band's recording company and management team, many of the band's most hardcore fans and also serves as the inspiration for some of the topics that the band addresses. I have never had the opportunity to watch the band on their home turf and I knew that I was in for quite a treat.
I got acclimated to the city and time zone on Friday and Saturday and as Saturday evening approached, I made my way to the venue in West London. Shepherd's Bush Empire is quite an amazing place. It's essentially a theater that has been turned into a concert hall. Given that it's got three levels of seating above the floor (all with clear views), excellent décor, great acoustics and an overall intimate setting that's quite rare for an Iron Maiden concert these days. Upon arriving at the venue, there was already a huge line outside of fans trying to get in. Even though the venue seats only somewhere near 2,000, one could already sense that it was going to be an enthusiastic crowd. Although most of the crowd was English, there were numerous fans that had arrived from all parts of the world. I personally met a sizeable contingent from USA (including some of the Chicago Mutants from my hometown), as well as fans from Scandinavia, continental Europe, Japan and points beyond. It's a testament to the deep loyalty and passion that Iron Maiden inspires that any Maiden concert anywhere in the world simultaneously turns into a global meeting of Heavy Metal fans!
Once inside, openers Dirty Deeds were performing their opening set. They were well received by the audience and one could tell that they felt quite at home in front of a primarily English Audience. As Dirty Deeds finished up their set, immediately the audience broke into a chant of 'Maiden' followed by 3 claps (very similar to the clips from the 12 Wasted Years video from the bands early days at the Marquee) to set the stage for the headliners. As the wait continued the anticipation continued to build with some of the most synchronized chanting I've heard. The wait wasn't long as the lights went out and the classical intro music started. Shortly thereafter Nicko appeared behind his kit to a loud roar, followed by Adrian with the opening chords to 'Wicker Man' and then the rest of band emerged and the show was underway. Although the band had not performed live as a unit since early November, they were in fine form and the atmosphere was electric.
As the show proceeded, the band continued to deliver the magic like only they can. The set list was the same as earlier in the tour with a heavy influence on the material from the Brave New World album and many of the classics from the earlier albums. In order the band played:
The Wicker Man
Ghost of the Navigator
Brave New World
2 Minutes to Midnight
Sign of the Cross
Dream of Mirrors
The Evil That Men Do
Fear of the Dark
The entire set was delivered brilliantly. The highlights for me tonight were 'Ghost of the Navigator', 'Blood Brothers', 'The Trooper' and 'The Evil that men Do'. As always one of the interesting elements is the conversation that Bruce has with the audience during breaks between certain songs, and I noticed that Bruce tonight was fairly short in his addresses. He thanked the crowd for coming out and wished them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and also remarked that he would like to make the band's appearance at a London venue like Shepherd's Bush an annual event. (Although he did leave the final decision on that up to Management)
The band were really having a lot of fun on stage tonight. Bruce was up to his usual antics running all over the stage and climbing platforms and amplifier/speaker stacks whenever possible. Steve was running around all over as well while singing every word. Dave, Janick and Adrian were their usual selves as they each took their turns in the spotlight with blazing solos while also delivering strong and precise support to the rhythm section. Nicko was his usual octopus self behind the kit while emerging frequently to interact with the fans or other band members.
The only hiccup was during the finale 'Iron Maiden' when a walking Eddie dressed in The Wicker Man incarnation appeared in the background but could not manage to walk out onto the main stage. Of course, Eddie lingering in the background is not necessarily a bad thing as it immediately reminded me of the 'Running Free' single artwork from Maiden's earliest days.
As the band said their initial thankyous and goodbyes, the stage was set for a most memorable encore. It was started once again with the intro to 'Number of the Beast' followed by a brilliant rendition of 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'. As Bruce introduced 'Sanctuary' he remarked that the band was close to their curfew but decided to take a defiant stance, which echoes the theme of this song. All of the band members had another opportunity to shine and as the song concluded the audience gave the band a thunderous ovation. I waited for the band members to say their goodbyes and throw out goodies into the crowd but the band waited and Bruce remarked 'There's more!' and at the count of 4 the band played the opening chords to 'Fallen Angel' from the Brave New World album. I was in blissful shock! I knew that the band had played this song on some European shows earlier in the tour, but I had never had the chance to hear it live. I proceeded to happily sing and headbang along as did my peers in the audience. After this song, the band stayed on stage as Bruce introduced the latest single 'Out of the Silent Planet'. This song is a great number live with its heavy start, good tempo and great chorus. It was another delight to my ears and left me with a huge grin on my face. As this song ended, the band was pushing 11pm and they said their final thankyous and goodbyes to the elated fans!
This brought the memorable Saturday night to a close. A couple of other items that stood out from the evening, besides the excellent Iron Maiden performance was the appearance by Blaze in one of the bars and in the backstage area. I had the chance to say a quick hello to him and wish him well with his solo efforts. He also had the chance to spend some time with the band prior to them going on stage. Another highlight was the huge after show party at the Backstage Bar at the venue. This was a really large gathering featuring some lucky fans, friends and families of the band, the band members and many of the business associates of the band. Although I didn't stay for all of it, I'm told that all had a memorable time! Finally, tonight also marked a major event in the life of one Janick Gers as he had become a proud father earlier on Saturday. Special accolades to him for still meeting his commitments to the fans right in the middle of a major family event! As I made my way back to the hotel, the anticipation for Sunday and another healthy Iron maiden offering had already begun!
Sunday Night promised to repeat the accomplishments of Saturday with some subtle differences. The venue was once again sold out and the audience was even more rabid tonight. I think the substitution of industry and business people (no offense to them as I tend to fall in one of those categories for most of my life) with more hardcore Maiden fans definitely made a difference. Another element was the overall performance of the band. The crew had the benefit of leaving everything intact from the night before and the sound / light experts were able to pick up where Saturday Night had left off as opposed to starting from scratch. This definitely made a difference in the sound and overall presentation of the band.
They were firing on all cylinders from the word go although there were some difficulties with the pre-recorded intros to some of the songs. They played the same set list as the night before. Some of the highlights tonight included the introduction to 'Ghost of the Navigator' where the audience was clapping along even before Bruce got the notion of encouraging them, to the absolutely emotional part of 'Blood Brothers' that sent tingles up and down my spine, to the sheer power and melodic beauty of 'Sign of the Cross' and 'The Clansman'. Like the rest of the audience, I was reminded again and again of the elements that make Iron Maiden so unique.
Bruce was a bit more talkative tonight. Prior to 'Blood Brothers' he thanked the fans for supporting the band throughout the lean years when every new trend lead to the proclamation of the death of Maiden style metal by members of the media. Prior to 'Dream of Mirrors' he mentioned to the audience that earlier in the week Maiden had received the news that they had been nominated for a Grammy this year. He continued by saying that the band found that a bit surprising and thought it was interesting that Maiden were pitted against 'Slipknot' and 'Marilyn Manson' among others.
Other highlights of the performance were the excellent audience participation throughout. It was amazing to these American eyes how quickly and in unison the audience would raise their hands to clap along and how loud they would roar during the choruses. The crowdsurfers were in full form tonight as well with some female fans also partaking in the activities. Finally, one of the funniest moments of the entire night was the impromptu dancing that Nicko did behind his kit during the intro to 'The Clansman'. It was absolutely hilarious to see him dancing without a care as if he was a kid and a very good testimonial to the youthful exuberance and energy he possesses to this day! As the main set came to a close, Eddie was able to make a complete appearance unlike the night before. He came out during the second half of 'Iron Maiden' and proceeded to take his place on stage and engage in playful antics with Janick and Dave.
The wait for the encore was short tonight and it consisted of the same 5 songs as the night before. Once again, 'Number of the Beast' and 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' were delivered as the timeless classics they are. Then the band played 'Sanctuary' and once again closed the set with 'Fallen Angel' and 'Out of the Silent Planet'. The band then said their thankyous to the appreciative fans and Bruce once again suggested that he would like to see this become an 'annual event'. The after show festivities were minimal tonight as the band and the crew had an early departure to Mexico City the following day for the first date of the South American tour.
As the evening came to a close, I took a moment to reflect on the past 6 months or so when I had the pleasure to see Maiden perform 15 times on the Brave New World Tour in several countries. Each show holds unique and special memories that range from the venue (who can forget Madison Square Garden in New York with almost 20,000 metal maniacs, to the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas in the heart of sin city or Shepherd's Bush in London which was the epitome of atmosphere, acoustics and decor) to the always enthusiastic and charming fans (such as the Japanese fans in Europe who were startled to discover that Bruce had been standing next to them for a minute talking to someone without them realizing it, to the fan from Chile in Boston who had flown 13 hours to the USA just so he could attend the Iron Maiden concert, to the Mexican Metal Princess in Dallas and Houston that confirmed that women can be as dedicated in their support of Maiden as any bloke without compromising one ounce of beauty, to all the other Maiden fans that had traveled across oceans to see the band with their own unique Maiden tales to share) to the crew (ranging from the roadies, to the sound and light managers, to the epitome of security in Wally Grove and tour management in Steve Cox) and then finally the band themselves with their brilliance as musicians and yet their excellence as intelligent, charming, approachable and fun-loving human beings! It's been 6 months of pure metal bliss that's made life very fun indeed!
Carry on Iron Maiden and conquer Central and Latin America in the weeks to come and may we have the pleasure of receiving more Maiden magic in the years to come!
- Sumit Chandra