Striking while the iron's hot

James Combes

Iron Maiden, Earl's Court, London, December 22nd, 2006.

 "As you all know, this is a non-smoking auditorium. Unfortunately, it seems that one of our amplifiers is smoking and we're going to have to halt the gig whilst we change it."

Four songs into Iron Maiden's set at Earl's Court and a technical problem has struck. The first twenty minutes of the gig  — show-casing their superb A Matter of Life and Death album  — has been nothing short of astounding.

The last time I saw Iron Maiden  — in 1992  — they were a five-piece. It was Dickinson's last tour before an eight-year split.  "Be Quick or Be Dead", the set-opener, sent the crowd wild that night. Now, 15 years later,  "Different World"  — a far superior song - is doing much the same thing.

A tremendous pace is set. Running about like utter loonies, they put younger bands to shame. Iron Maiden are closer to their pensions than their teenage years. They have no right to be this energetic.

New album, A Matter of Life and Death is being played in its entirety tonight. For most bands this would be the kiss of death. Most of Maiden's contemporaries are stuck playing the same set-list year by year, victims to the law of diminishing returns.
Dickinson introduces the second song:  "We're Iron Maiden and  'These Colours Don't Run'." He runs across the stage waving a Union Jack before him, like a hyper-active four-year-old who has spent the entire day binge-eating blue Smarties. There will be no looking back and no reliance on old, safer material.

But two songs later it grinds to a halt. The problem, we are told, will only take five minutes to correct. Harris, Gers, Smith and Murray retire to the drum riser as all sound to the stage is cut.

Dickinson returns to the stage, loud-speaker in hand. Anxious to keep morale up, he conducts a rendition of  "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" with the front rows. Five minutes becomes ten. The audience begins humming the middle section of  "Fear of the Dark" to pass the time, but everyone is getting itchy feet.

After thirty minutes the problem is rectified. Dickinson addresses the fans:  "It says a lot about a band when something goes wrong on stage  … but it says a lot more about the fans." And the set continues as if nothing happened at all.

 "Out of the Shadows" sees the entire audience chanting the chorus and punching the air in unison.  "The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg"  — a seven minute epic  — provokes a wave of absolute chaos as everyone joins Bruce in screaming  "Someone to save me/ Someone to save me from myself."

Maiden can do no wrong tonight. Right now they are the biggest heavy-metal band in the world. The rejuvenation of the band in 2000, due to Bruce Dickinson and, guitarist, Adrian Smith's return, has seen them go from strength to strength.

It is as if the last 15 years haven't happened. The band looks exactly as they did on the A Real Live One tour. And Janick Gers seems to be wearing the same cut-off t-shirt.

Steve Harris spends the evening with his foot on the monitor, spitting out the lyrics, as he guns the audience with his Fender bass. Dickinson may have lost his trade-mark flowing locks but he has lost none of his enthusiasm.

 "Scream for me London!" he cries, during  "Fear of The Dark" - the familiar catch-phrase, as indispensable a part of every set as the appearance of Eddie, the album mascot - this time in a huge tank.

 "Iron Maiden," and  "The Evil That Men Do" end the main set. A single encore  — the superb  "Hallowed Be Thy Name"  — finishes the evening in epic style as Eddie roams up and down the stage brandishing his gun.

Few bands could pull-off such a successful set after a 30-minute technical problem. But this is Iron Maiden  — and, as the man said,  "These Colours Don't Run."