All music fans have a “list”, a selection of bucket list bands that you have yet to see live. Though I’ve been through some wildly different music phases over the years, Iron Maiden have always been near the top of my list ever since first hearing ‘Fear of the Dark’ as a teenager. Few bands can match the scale and spectacle of the mighty Maiden in their live shows. Gutted to have missed out on their last tour, I eagerly snapped up tickets for their Legacy of the Beast world tour and made my way down to Genting Arena… on what turned out to be Bruce Dickinson’s 60th birthday of all days!
It was my first ever gig at Genting (or anywhere in Birmingham for that matter) and I was surprised at how small it felt. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still one of the biggest gigs I’ve been to, but it seemed positively cosy by Maiden standards. Part of the reason may have been the sizeable proportion of the crowd that were waiting outside in order to avoid the opening act Killswitch Engage. Those people had the right idea. Killswitch did not seem like a good fit for an opening band, and truth be told it felt like an opening band was unnecessary in the first place at one of the grandest live shows on the planet.
Maiden dropped you in at the deep end, firing on all cylinders right from the off. Churchill’s speech gave way to the electrifying ‘Aces High’, with a full-sized Spitfire suspended above the stage, banking and weaving along with the track, already surpassing anything I’d ever seen before at a gig. This first half of the set focused on the theme of war, with the stage mostly shrouded in camo netting and barbed wire, save for the unique backdrop that accompanied each song. When the unmistakable riff of ‘The Trooper’ kicked in I was disappointed that Bruce wasn’t doing his trademark move of waving the union flag in a British red coat, until that is the band’s mascot Eddie turned out to be the one wearing it. The menacing giant lumbered around the stage in a red coat uniform, wielding a sword and chasing the band members, until he was dispatched in a duel with Bruce during the guitar solo.
For the second half of the set, dealing with the theme of religion, the war-torn stage was transformed into an opulent cathedral with hanging chandeliers and vibrant stained glass windows. As the songs slowly progressed into ever darker territory however, so too did the stage. Cracks formed and fire spewed forth as it became a sinister satanic altar. The atmosphere at this point was spine-tingling, making the deep cut ‘Sign of the Cross’ the surprise highlight of the night. The next track, ‘Flight of Icarus’, was a different beast all together. A giant inflatablie Icarus towered over the stage, and Bruce ran around with an actual flamethrower (imagine all the health and safety forms that must have needed!) before the imposing winged figure came crashing down in a burst of pyrotechnic pandemonium.
The final section of the night was reserved for a flurry of fan favourites. Tracks like ‘The Number of the Beast’ and ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ had the biggest crowd reactions of the night. There was one final spectacle in store however as the band went all the way back to their debut for the eponymous ‘Iron Maiden’. A giant inflatable devil’s head loomed over the stage, its glowing red eyes piercing into the crowd. So lifelike and menacing, the image will be permanently etched in my memory whenever I reflect on the best gigs I’ve ever been to. The whole night was just an unrivalled feast for the senses. The effects were astonishing, the music as good as it ever was, and the band still dart about with more energy than a group half their age. I can see why people follow them on tour night after night. If you have even a passing appreciation for Iron Maiden, and they aren’t on your list of bands that you absolutely need to see, then they damn well should be.