05 Aug 2000 - Sumit @ MSG
Anticipation! My mind and thoughts were consumed by it as August 5th approached. How could one not be foaming at the mouth at the prospect of seeing Iron Maiden at one of the most famous venues in the whole world, Madison Square Garden. I had been excited about this opportunity for a couple of months now, ever since the band announced that they would be playing this venue as part of their US tour in support of 'Brave New World', and when the day finally arrived I was grinning with excitement!
The day started with a mad sprint to the airport in Detroit to catch the 845am flight to New York. I was able to make the flight in time, and thus was on my way. It was a beautiful day to fly as we flew over Cleveland, Pennsylvania and made our way over New Jersey to the New York City area. The skies were crystal clear as we approached the city and we got the chance to get a bird's eyeview on the magnificent sight that is New York City. From the Verazzano Bridge that's at the mouth of the Hudson River, to the Statue of Liberty that graces Ellis Island, to the twin World Trade Center towers and the Empire State Building in Manhattan, to the Brooklyn Bridge that connects Manhattan to Brooklyn, we saw them all. On our final approach, we flew over Brooklyn and then Queens including the US National Tennis Center (site of the upcoming US Open tournament) and Shea Stadium (home of the New York Mets) before landing at LaGuardia Airport. New York has a way of reminding one of its grandeur from the word go, and today was no different. The theme had been set, and as I exited the airport I smiled at the thought of Maiden being on the biggest stage in the most compelling of cities anywhere!
The afternoon went by quickly and before I knew it showtime was approaching. I made my way on the New York Subway to Madison Square Garden for tonight's activities. Madison Square Garden is one of the more fabled venues in the world. There are so many memories that took place here. This is where Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller (can't believe I'm using those two names in the same sentence) delivered daggers to the New York Knicks. This is also where Willis Reed played on a broken leg to provide inspiration to the Knicks in the NBA Finals in the early 70's. The Garden is also the home of hockey's New York Rangers and thus the site where Wayne Gretzky played his last hockey game. Beyond Sports, this is the marquee venue for all other events in New York including concerts. This is where the truly successful artists, those with real drawing power, perform in New York. This is the venue that Iron Maiden sold out without any radio airplay back in 1983 and tonight, Maiden returned once again to take their prominent place on this stage.
The show had sold out very quickly and the venue was filling up rather quickly as showtime approached. Part of the reason for this was the strong bill for tonight and the entire US leg of the 'Brave New World' Tour. How can one resist Halford (fronted by ex-Judas Priest Metal God Rob Halford), followed by Queensryche (featuring the compelling Geoff Tate on vocals), followed by Iron Maiden? The fans were there early to catch both of the openers and it was well worth the price of admission. The openers did a great job of delivering their material and setting a standard that Iron Maiden would have to work to top! Needless to say, Iron Maiden would be up to the task.
As Queensryche ended, the anticipation for Iron Maiden began. I was in the front section about 7 rows from the stage, right in the middle of the mayhem. The fans around me were definitely in a party mood. There was extensive drinking and conversation in the style that is so unique to the people of New York. The rest of the audience was also electric in anticipation. The chant of Maiden started pretty early on several occasions during the changeover and as the lights went out, approximately 20,000 metalheads roared their approval!
The classical music intro started and the background was changed to reveal the cover of the 'Brave New World' album with Eddie hovering in the sky! There were lights coming from his eyes as he surveyed the masses that were about to be cast under the Maiden spell. Nicko emerged in the darkness above his kit to a roar from the Madison Square Garden crowd. As the intro continued, a spotlight appeared on stage and it was none other than a riffing Adrian Smith with the first chords of 'The Wicker Man'. My head immediately started bobbing and shortly thereafter there was an explosion as Maiden charged the stage. There's nothing quite like the beginning of a Heavy Metal show and tonight was among the most electric I've ever experienced. The gunslingers (i.e. Steve, Dave, Janick and Adrian) were charged tonight and soon a flying Bruce joined them! The rest of this song went by rather quickly as I tried to absorb the scene and the flurry of activity both on and off stage. The sound mix was again a bit muddled, but not too bad considering the arena setting. The highlight of this song was the soloing by Adrian and the return of his original style to the Maiden fold. As this song came to an end, things settled down a bit as Bruce introduced 'Ghost of the Navigator' by remarking that the band had traveled a long way to see tonight's audience. The sound was getting better as the band set forth on the journey that is the second track from 'Brave New World'. Janick had to change guitars in the middle of the first verse, but was quickly back in the mix with the rest of the band to take on his rhythm guitar and then soloing responsibilities. The instrumental section of this song was the highlight tonight as the band went through the solo into the time change and galloping bass lines (with Nicko's single bass drum wizardry) back into the chorus. As this song ended, the band raised their collective arms to a roar from the crowd.
Bruce next introduced the title track of the new album, 'Brave New World'. Spotlights appeared on stage around each member as Bruce sang the opening verse and added some extra zest to some of the notes. As the heavier part of the song kicked in, the sound was crisp and clear. Bruce took his place above the stage for the first time tonight while Steve, Dave, Adrian and Janick manned the front of the stage, each interacting with a different part of the crowd. The chorus was exemplary of the fine sing along opportunities that Maiden is known for and Bruce got the audience to sing along as parts of the 'Brave New World'. They were a bit slow to join in at first, but soon got the hang of it and sang along! As the song came to an end, it was time for something old as the band entered 'Wrathchild'. This song has been a trademark part of the band's live set for years and it still comes across as a strong anthem. The audience joined in with theirs fists raised to the air as 'I'm a Wrathchild' proclamations were voiced all around. The spotlights on the crowd gave me the chance to see how packed the venue really was and they were packed to the rafters all the way around! Dave delivered one of his classic solos reminiscent of his style in the early Iron Maiden days, which was followed by a wickedly delightful scream from Bruce prior to the last verse! The audience raised their fists again to the chorus as this song came to an end.
The energy level became even more electric as Janick unveiled the opening riff to '2 Minutes to Midnight'. This song from the Powerslave album has always reminded of me vintage Maiden with regard to the US audience and the audience tonight was a fine example. They cheered and sang along to the verse and loudly echoed the chorus! The guitarists were alive in full force as Dave delivered another one of his blistering solos before Janick and Adrian carried on the torch during the slow section and then back out of the break. Steve was also on full throttle and had a look of complete fire in his eyes tonight as he headbanged and sang along himself! The song came to an end with the whole crowd proclaiming 'Midnight, Midnight, its all night!'
With the crowd charged and ripe, Bruce seized the opportunity to ask 'How the fu*k are you New York City?' Judging by the crowd roar, I think they were in quite a fine mood! He proceeded to thank them for selling out the show very quickly and welcomed openers Queensryche and Halford to the bill. Bruce's interaction with the audience is always of high interest to me, because it's customized to the particular city and the particular mood that he happens to be in. Of course, he's a master at it, so it's always interesting to hear what he comes up with. Tonight he was particularly motivated. He called the New York/New Jersey area, the heart and soul of metal in the US. He also mentioned to the audience that he wouldn't say that anywhere else, and if he did, the audience could collectively beat him up for breaching their trust! He concluded by saying that this show is about bringing metal back and a big fu*k you to the media. He thanked the fans for supporting the band over the years and introduced 'Blood Brothers'. This song starts out with one of the most beautiful melodies the band has ever written, which is followed by some of the most soulful singing of Bruce's career. On this song, he definitely distinguished himself in the rock vocalist category. The rest of the band was on point and energetic with precision in their playing while delivering more energy in their stage performances than bands half their age! Bruce led the audience in claps as he glided around all different parts of the stage from the front, to each side, and to the platforms next to the drum riser! It was a triumphant performance of this new song, and as it ended darkness and silence fell upon the stage.
This was broken with the sound of monks chanting and the introduction to 'Sign of the Cross'. Nicko rose from his drum kit to lead the claps as the backdrop changed to reveal crosses. As the band moved to the drum march part of the intro, Bruce emerged on a cross with wings behind the drum riser. He was elevated above the riser and then lowered to coincide with the beginning of the vocals. From the first line, Bruce came out charging 'Standing alone in the wind and rain' while the band delivered some of the best riffing of their back catalog. This brought us neatly to the break featuring solos by Dave and Janick. The extended instrumental section was a pure delight to those in the audience who love this element of Maiden's sound. As the song came to an end as Bruce's 'A fire in the sky' was accompanied by the cross being set ablaze as the song came to a close. Next up was 'The Mercenary' from the new album. This mid-paced rocker picked up the tempo of the show as Bruce glided from one part of the stage to another with microphone in hand and delivered the vocals. The sound was crisp and clear as the multiple union jacks emerged in the audience. This song has the classic elements of the Maiden sound with the melodies and the compelling chorus, while also possessing one of the more unique breaks that the band has done which reminds me a bit of 'The Prisoner' from the Number of the Beast album. As this song came to an end, the band chose to keep the war theme going with the next track 'The Trooper'.
This song is an absolute classic that never gets old! Raging rhythms, picturesque lyrics, and high-energy performances by each band member always make this a highlight of any Maiden live set and tonight was no different! Amazing! Adrian and Janick joined on the blistering first solo and then made way for the blazing wizardry of Dave! Even the members of the audience who were there primarily to see Queensryche (there were a few) couldn't resist singing along to this one! As the song came to an end, the audience was united in their roar and Bruce took the chance once again to say a few words.
He initially coughed as he had a drink of water and then remarked 'Beware of water, fish fu*k in it!' He then proceeded to introduce 'Dream of Mirrors' from the new album. The 3-guitar intro made way for some fine acoustic work by Janick as the audience clapped along. Bruce was particularly passionate on this track in his vocals. The stage show with the lights helped set the right atmosphere with circling lights that conjured up the dream effect! As the song continued, the band blistered once again into another classic Maiden instrumental section with a melody and solo feeding frenzy to satisfy all appetites. The crowd got into it more and more, and sang along vigorously to the 'Whoa, whoa'! The song came to a close as Bruce confirmed 'The Dream is True'!
Next up was 'The Clansman'. Bruce asked is someone from Scotland and there were a few roars in reply. Steve took the spotlight on the intro to this one as Bruce joined him with the mood setting vocals. As the first chant of 'Freedom' emerged, the audience was once again engaged although they were a little less familiar with the Blaze era material. During this song, the spotlight once again returned to the three guitarists who showcased their collective capabilities on this song. The band were really enjoying themselves and you could see it in their expressions! Bruce was upto his goofy antics as he pulled out on of Janick's hairs and then proceeded to put on a display of Russian dancing! The song came to a mellow and soulful end to a roar from the crowd. Now it was time to go a little further back into the Maiden vault to 1988's 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son'. This album that catapulted Maiden to their first headlining appearance at Castle Donington is full of classics, and the band chose to perform 'The Evil that Men Do'.
This song possesses some of the best Maiden lyrics ever. 'Circle of fire, my baptism of joy at an end it seems, The seventh lamb slain, the book of life opens before me' is absolutely classic and no one can do justice to it like Bruce can! It's also a showcase for Adrian's writing and soloing abilities, along with Janick. Tonight, it also marked the first appearance by Eddie in front of the Madison Square Garden crowd and he received one of the loudest ovations of them all! He proceeded to spar with Janick while the band continued at a blistering pace without compromising the melodic integrity of this composition. As this song came to a close, the audience roared again as Eddie made his way off stage. Darkness engulfed the stage again as Bruce pondered and then introduced the title track from the 1992 release 'Fear of the Dark'.
The crowd was into this one from the beginning and sang along to the intro. Janick showed off his improvisation capabilities on this one, as the band transitioned beautifully from one part of the song to another. The crowd was quite active on this one as Bruce resorted to merely acting as a conductor for their voices! The song ended with another mellow outro and Bruce demanded 'Scream for me New York City' and then introduced the 'Iron Maiden'! Dave played the opening riff and the atmosphere became even more electric as the audience sensed the end of the show. My heart started to beat a bit faster as the backdrop opened up to reveal 'The Wicker Man' Eddie with sacrificial virgins and Bruce! This was Maiden at their best with their timeless punkish rock namesake coupled with an over the top stageshow! During the second part of the song, the energy level reached even higher as pyro and mock flames accompanied the virgins and band charged on! The audience was in frenzy during the last chorus, confirming that Iron Maiden had indeed got them regardless of their location! The song ended in triumph with the band and audience bordering on the ecstatic! As the band took their bows and walked off the stage, the audience continued to roar. They were definitely hungry for more; the band did not disappoint.
A few moments later the backdrop was changed to reveal the artwork from the 1982 classic 'Number of the Beast' and the voice-over intro. This album, that was the key catalyst for the band making major inroads into the US market, is also full of classics, none more revered than the title track. The darkness was broken with a spotlight on Steve and Dave as they played the opening riff to this song. The end of the opening verse was followed by a voracious scream by Bruce accompanied by explosions and pyro on stage and pure delight in concurrence by the audience! As the house lights lit up the entire venue, it was obvious that everyone knew the chorus to this all-time Maiden classic (voted frequently to be the favorite Maiden track of all time in Fan Club polls). Bruce was in top form as he catered to the entire audience while Steve's bass sounded amazing during the latter part of the instrumental break! At the end of the song, Bruce claimed 'and I'll make New York City burn!' as the song came to an end with another display of pyro and stage theatrics!
Next up was 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'. Nicko started this off with a towel draped around his head that gave the appearance of a monk while Steve took the lead in getting the crowd to clap along! Bruce demonstrated his stamina with an extended 'Running Low' that seemed to last forever as the band charged into the main part of this song with amazing energy! Janick was flying about like a madman, while Steve headbanged mercilessly, and Bruce made his way from side to side! Coming out of the break, it was time for the guitarists to shine once again. Janick's solo ended a bit later than normal (not sure if that was improvisation or a faux pas) which added a slightly different twist to this rendition of this song. Bruce took this opportunity to get the audience to raise their arms and it was apparent that the band had fully won over the entire crowd by now! The last song of the night was 'Sanctuary'. I always find this song to be a good set closer because it provides good opportunity for audience interaction while giving each member in the band the chance to improvise a bit. Bruce was up to the task as he ran from side to side to get each section of the audience to scream for him. He even tried to confuse them with a little mis-direction (perhaps a tendency from his days on the football pitch?) but the audience didn't get confused and stayed with him! Each of the guitarist got one final chance to show their prowess while Steve and Nicko provided the foundation! Bruce was somehow able to get a hat from one of the New York City police officers who had apparently been in attendance. It just goes to show, that even those who enforce the law sometimes seek sanctuary from it! With some final mayhem, the song and the set came to a close. Bruce congratulated the audience for being great and declared them to be the 'Brave New World'. The band said their goodbyes and then paused for a group picture with ace photographer Ross Halfin and the night was over!
Backstage, there was the usual New York City aftershow party, but the highlight tonight was definitely the show itself. I reflected back on tonight. Had I just witnessed this? Had I just witnessed a band and genre that had been left for the dead just a few short years ago, triumph to a sold out audience on arguably the greatest stage on the planet? It was a testament to the resilience of Iron Maiden and to the whole spirit of Heavy Metal. Here was a band that first sold Madison Square Garden in 1983 as an upcomer without any radio airplay. Through the twists and turns of their career, they played the largest venues all over the world in the 80s and 90s but due to lineup changes, some time away from the US stage, and intense negative press, they chose to play a venue as small as the Birch Hill Nightclub in Old Bridge, NJ in 1996 to a few thousands fans. Now, only a few years later, the band had returned to their original prominence and the proof lies with their excellent new album and a live offering that once again sold out the most ambitious venue in all of America! Well done Iron Maiden and the rest of America, watch out because you're next!