Iron Maiden – First Direct Arena, Leeds – 28th June 2023
It’s the ‘Future Past’ as Iron Maiden fuses the current Senjutsu album with the futuristic visions from 1986’s Somewhere In Time.
The Iron Maiden machine seems to have the stamina and legs of a Grand National winner. The ‘Red Rum’ of Heavy Metal maybe? Sometimes to the extent that it’s hard to keep up with what they’re touring. No complaints though from the hoards who travel from afar to be on the barrier with their Maiden flags and unbridled fervour. Tonight, which sees a stop off in Leeds on the latest in a touring stretch that’s seen their Legacy Of The Beast jaunts interspersed with showcasing music from new albums, is perhaps the best we’ve seen Maiden. That’s no idle boast, or rose-tinted, post gig euphoria, as we go back to the original Somewhere In Time touring period that’s part celebrated on the new tour.
Strangely, Maiden’s most recent album, Senjutsu, released back in ’21, has managed to bypass its own dedicated tour. A couple of songs were featured in the opening part of their recent ‘Legacy’ shows (last seen in the UK at Download 2022), although the opening gambit of Senjutsu and Stratego have strangely been sidelined. Some of the staples of the Maiden set, often the first names on Steve Harris’ teamsheet are getting a rest – no Number Of The Beast or Hallowed Be Thy Name on this tour. Absent too is The Parchment from the latest album – arguably the epic highpoint (and without wanting to put the cart before the horse, one of the staples of our upcoming ‘Iron Maiden epics’ feature).
However, for 2023, they’ve structured a set that incorporates plenty of new material combined with a grand selection from the, at the time, controversial guitar synth heavy Somewhere In Time. Of course, there’s a generous dip into the back catalogue (as they do) with The Prisoner featuring a huge Portmerion backscreen and of course Partick McGoohan’s famous quotes – “we want information…not a number…who is Number One…” etc, plus the song lyric that reinforces the Maiden tour message – “I don’t care where the past was, I know where I’m going.“
Aside, there’s plenty of familiarity, not least of which is the signature pre-gig Doctor Doctor signal that things are about to get messy, and a return to the Somewhere On Tour Bladerunner theme before the band dash out for an opening SIT pairing. Mascot Eddie makes a surprisingly early appearance as the Stranger cyber cowboy, lounging on the Smith/Murray side and Steve Harris taking a tumble in one of his dashes to the stage lip. No rolling around in agony like a Premiership prima donna as he barely missed a note and carried on firing his bass at those on the barrier. Wet paper towel and a plaster from the First Aid corner later.
Familiarity too with a Fear Of The Dark that signals the finishing line in sight and inevitably explodes into a mosh circle on the standing areas, Iron Maiden, The Trooper and the finale of Wasted Years, which acknowledges both the SIT album and its recent status as a final encore number. There are two further Eddie appearances, or one Eddie in different costumes, a bit like the old Action Man toys where you choose your outfit (and there’s a marketing suggestion as Maiden are never short of customers, the likes of whom form huge queues at the merch stall in Leeds). “Eddie’s got a f**king gun!” yells Bruce Dickinson as he sprints across the rear stage walkway to uncover his own weapon of mass destruction and engage in a mock (presumably risk-assessed and health & safety approved) gunfight with the cyborg Eddie. He’s back later in full Senjutsu outfit to duel with Janick Gers whose hyperactivity is more than a match for the giant mascot. Both Gers and Dickinson are charged, dashing around the stage set endlessly; Bruce atop the walkway and Janick at one point dancing back and forth at the back of Steve Harris like a mischievous Heavy Metal elf.
Maiden also give full value for money with their visuals. Small video screens – not something you see every day at a Maiden gig – add a touch of animation to accompany the ever-changing backdrops, in keeping with the show’s theme. The early set trio from Senjutsu – Writing On The Wall, Days Of Future Past and The Time Machine is a mighty selection with the backdrop of time machine visuals and a touch of synchronicity referencing the tour and Back To The Future. Quite apt, with Bruce racing round in his Doc Brown flowing coat and steampunk eyewear while musing over the theme of time that’s still to catch up with the Maiden boys, via The Time Machine and Days Of Future Past that gives the tour its title…who’d have thought… In the encore, Hell On Earth is accompanied by a vast barren landscape where Eddie as the Statue Of Liberty pokes out; a Planet Of The Apes reminder of the self-destructive nature of mankind as fa series of flames fire continuously across the stage and warm the front rows on the barrier.
High points in a set of highlights? Death Of The Celts sees Steve Harris tickling the acoustic bass for the intro before the instrumental quintet swinging their way through one of those classic Maiden passages that seems to be coming to an end before taking another turn and heading down another road paved with monster riffs. The galloping rhythms cross swords with jigs and twin guitar leads and searing solo spots for the Smith/Murray/Gers amigos, all before an evocative landscape backdrop, clouds of smoke drifting over the line of amps. Goosebump stuff. Hard to follow, but they do, as they’re giving a live premiere to Alexander The Great (Eddie as Alexander backdrop…) where Dickinson manages to keep pace with the tricky meter of the demand of the historically charged lyrics. Shivers up the spine and those goosebumps…again.
References to time pepper tonight’s set; the passing of time; time which waits for no man, historical battles won and lost and our own determination to stave off the inevitable with the piledriving Heaven Can Wait. A band who STILL lead the way, flying the flag for heavy metal. They seem to have been around forever and show no signs of stopping; more likely than not to die with their boots on. Never mind Alexander The Great; Iron Maiden, too are legends among mortal men. Like the man Bowie said, nothing’s gonna touch them, these are golden years.
The show opened with an energetic set from Germany’s Eurovisioneers, Lord Of The Lost. Doing their own word-of-mouth marketing for their own upcoming headline tour, their profile is riding the crest of the Eurovision wave. Afforded a generous space in which to work, their twelve song set built from the Blood And Glitter and Thornstar albumsand their genre fluid line up has plenty stagecraft to make their support slot something of a dark spectacle. Led by frontman Cris Harms, he’s all over the stage, mounting platforms and interacting with the band and delivering from the foot of a large backdrop that shows their now familiar image. Heavy Glam – not something you see every day but certainly attention grabbing.
Categories: Live Reviews