Playing With Madness

Iron Maiden 03Iron Maiden – Live in Belgrade, Serbia (2014)

Over the years I have gone to various rock concerts and one thing has become apparent – rock and metal concert goers usually tend to dress for the occasion which, in the case of rock and metal, means black, spikes, boots OR a rock/metal band t-shirt. There are, I’m confident, many fans out there that have t-shirts of all their favourite bands and can therefore be adequately dressed at each concert. On the other hand, there are the fans that have a couple of favourite bands and a variety of t-shirts of each band. So at most of these concerts, most of the people there, who have chosen the “rock band t-shirt” dress-code, will have t-shirts on of bands that aren’t even playing that day. And most of these, dare I call them “random” band t-shirts all have the same band featured, in one way, shape or colour and this band, most of the time, is Iron Maiden.

When the word “metal” is mentioned, in the musical context of course, the one band who most people will think of will be Iron Maiden. This is not a statistic, but rather an observation and on June 17th, at the Kalamegdan fortress in Belgrade, Serbia, there were “Iron Maiden” t-shirts as far as the eye could see to support this observation. This is the first time Iron Maiden have held an open-air show in Serbia since 1981 and over 20,000 fans from all over the Balkan region came to see this legendary English metal band perform once more (the band did perform here in 2009, but in the 16,000 closed-roof Belgrade Arena).

Swedish heavy metal band Ghost warmed up the gloomy, post-rain air and got the crowd in the mood for some metal madness! The Swedes have a heavy sound and have a theatrical stage presence which is matched by their onstage attire. The band members wear hooded robes while the singer, known only as “Papa Emeritus”, wears skull make up and is dressed as a Roman Catholic Pope. They seemed to be a fitting opening act that evening.

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Once Ghost had gone off stage and the stage crew started getting things ready for the headliners and the crowd mingled, got beers, t-shirts and other merchandise, a faint engine was heard somewhere in the distance. The sound got louder and louder a small, what appeared to be a single-seater, airplane flew over the fortress the stage and crowd. This caught the attention of the ever-increasing audience and as the plane came around again, most gazes were cast up towards the sky. The plane did some aerobatic tricks, loops, flips and dives and got loud cheers from down below every time. Jokes were made about how the pilot was actually Bruce Dickinson flying over to see how many fans had come to the show (Bruce Dickinson is a fully-certified commercial pilot and has even piloted planes on his own before).

After the aero-show and the sun had almost completely set, the walls of the fortress were lit up casting an enchanting glow over the park, which had been packed with over 20,000 ready and waiting metal fans. At 21h the lids dimmed and the two large screens on either side of the stage lit up with footage of monstrous ice bergs, crumbling into the sea with the orchestral and operatic “Rising Mercury” playing through the wall of speakers. Then darkness and as the stage was dimly lit with dark purple lights, Bruce Dickinson’s voice echoed around the fortress as “Moonchild” began. The crowd roared with joy and sang along loudly.

With their second song, the hit “Can I Play With Madness?” the 20,000 Iron Maiden fans came to life and jumped up and down and clapped and sang along. The band came alive as well and as the stage lit up, we saw Bruce, running all over the massive stage (which seemed to resemble a large ice berg) and Nicko McBain pounding on the drums in the middle of the massive ice-like formation. On his left are Steve Harris, founder of the band and bassist as well as Janick Gers on one, of three, lead guitars. On the opposite side of the stage are the other two axe wielders, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith.

The show is part of their “Maiden England” 2004 world tour. The tour is the third and final one that revisits certain periods in the band’s career, such as “7th Tour of a 7th Tour” in 1988 to promote the album “7th Son of a 7th Son”. The “7th Tour…” tour was captured on video and released by the band on VHS entitled “Maiden England” (which was re-released in 2013 on DVD, CD and vinyl as “Maiden England ’88”). This all means THAT… this was not an Iron Maiden tour where they would play all the hits (and there are many of them), but rather a tour during which they would play songs only up until 1988 when the “7th Son…” album was released. But nonetheless, this period in the band’s career was still as fruitful as any when it came to writing great songs, and their performance showed it.

One of their greatest songs, “Two Minutes To Midnight”, “The Trooper” and “The Number of the Beast” were all part of the first part of the show. And to say “show” is really an understatement. “Musical theatre” would be a more fitting term. The band are aged and very experienced. They play like one unit, with each instrument playing it’s song, as part of one whole song. And as with theatre, from Shakespeare to Broadway, there are sets, costumes, stages and lights. This was a theatrical performance both audibly and visually. The stage was set to be an ice berg that has begun to crumble. The background, behind the drum set had massive images of Eddie (the evil-looking band “mascot”) from various years and album covers in the band’s career. These images would interchange during breaks in the songs and robotic figures of Eddie incarnated in various forms would come up behind Nico and his drums or would come out on stage, wielding an 18th century sword.

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“Run to the Hills”, “7th Son of a 7th Son” and probably the most iconic Maiden song of all, “Fear of the Dark” were some of the songs during the second part of the show. When “Fear of the Dark” began, the infamous guitar notes that are played, have over the years become notes for the audience to sing and feel like they are part of the band. The loud “Oh, o-oh, oh…” was sung by the crowd with Bruce urging them on with his trademark “Scream for me Belgrade!” scream (which differs only in the name of the city, as the band play from country to country). The band’s self-titled song “Iron Maiden” brings the show to an end, and by “end” that of course means short break before the encore.

Sure enough, after about five minutes and loud “Maiden! Maiden! Maiden” chants around the Kalamegdan park, the heavy metal masters came back on stage to the sounds of legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill giving one of his famous speeches. “Aces High”, the Maiden classic from their 1984 album “Powerslave” got the massive crowd jumping and moshing again and “The Evil That Men Do” was no different. The “pièce de résistance”, and fittingly so, was “Sanctuary”, the band’s second single, released back in May of 1980. An epic song as the end to an epic performance by an epic band.

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The lights dimmed after the song ended and the band had waved their goodbyes and threw drumsticks, guitar picks, sweaty armbands and even a couple of “Iron Maiden” frisbees out into the audience. Monty Python’s humorous yet sarcastically witty song “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life” played as the satisfied and energised crowd left the fortress and the road crew swarmed onto the stage to dismantle the massive theatrical stage pieces and hit the road to the next stop on the “Maiden England” tour, before the tour ends on July 5th at the Sonisphere Festival in the UK.

After listening to these musicians play and after seeing the massive theatre production that they create in order to really convey their songs (and the meanings behind the songs) to the audience, it really comes as no surprise that 30 years on, the band is still playing sold out shows all over the world and that fans (not only of their music, but of the music of the bands that Maiden inspired over the years) are eagerly going to not only hear them live but to to actually SEE them live as well, because an Iron Maiden show is exactly that, a show… a story, a beginning, middle and end, a soundtrack, a lightshow all in one.

It’s no wonder that at every other live rock or metal show, there will always be a considerably large number of Iron Maiden t-shirts moshing around.

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