No matter how monotonous our day-today reality may be, with every passing day we inch closer to understanding the convoluted mysteries of our existence. With time and experience our youthful innocence (or some would say ignorance) dissipates and we become more educated in dealing with our lives. School gives us the tools for the workplace and family provides us a foundation we attempt to build our own lives around but when it comes stepping outside of yourself there's little given in the way support. Last week, when Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith began the spiraling guitar chords of "Wasted Years" twenty-thousand fans in the suburbs of Chicago grasped the missing piece of life's puzzle which assists in offering internal calm serenity. We live in a society where if we are not frantic about the eight hours in front of us, then we're anxious of the eight years that lie ahead. Back in 1986, Smith wrote "Wasted Years" for Iron Maiden's Somewhere In Time record about life on the road but it transcended beyond a tale of being homesick. It's become one of Iron Maiden's most enduring songs further exemplified by an acoustic cover version Ryan Adams performed last year where Adams proved to many that there is more to Iron Maiden than meets the eye. "Wasted Years" is a song of longing that surpasses its original intention, especially in concert. You don't need to have decades of living under your belt to understand the meditative magnitude of "Wasted Years" and its message. When Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith wrote it I can't be sure he imagined that it would be an anthem for living in the here and now. We've come to realize that the "golden years" doesn't refer to a specific set of years, but to each and every moment we're breathing.
Iron Maiden is currently on their Maiden England World Tour which is closely recreating their 1988 tour in terms of set list and stage set. Walking a line between your past and your present is a delicate one. Most artists falter in concert as their shows lean too heavily towards one or the other, but Iron Maiden appears to have found the perfect balance. They're currently in a rotation of classic tours followed by ones in support of new music. When there's a new album, expect to see most of it performed live with only a handful of classics in tow, but the vintage concerts live wholly in the time period without intrusion from the current era of the band, something few acts touring today manage successfully. Iron Maiden's popularity has expanded beyond those who grew up with them, but now include a new and younger generation. The classic tours are Maiden's way of letting these younger fans experience these songs. While this may appear to be a drag for the artist looking back, you never would have noticed as Iron Maiden nailed every song with strapping precision, without a single bum note performed throughout the two hour show. Opening with the pyrotechnic theatrics of "Moonchild", all six members sprinted to the forefront of the stage where Maiden grandly orchestrated a bravura blast from the past all the way through the finale of "Running Free" two hours later.
Between new backdrops, pyrotechnics, flames and a few appearances by the band's infamous mascot, "Eddie", the show left few stones unturned visually. Capturing elements of fantasy along with darker corners of society, Maiden's music has proven to have deep truths embedded within. As documented in their brilliant Flight 666 from a few years back, Iron Maiden's music reaches more countries than most artists could ever dream about. Despite never having a major radio presence here in the US, several of the songs performed in Tinley Park (a southern suburb of Chicago) induced sieges of screams. Chicago experienced record setting heat temperatures and despite this, the band took no shortcuts. Especially impressive was Bruce Dickinson, Maiden's lead vocalist, who went through several sets of clothes (most of them involving coats and long sleeves) while leaping across the stage like someone decades younger. His vocals, while not at the same range as his youth, were still strapping, notably on "Can I Play With Madness", "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" and "The Evil That Men Do". Dickinson prowled the stage like a man on a musical mission rather than a flirting front man. His body didn't seduce the audience, the ardor with which he delivered the songs did. The show featured two songs from 1992's Fear of the Dark album, the sole songs not from the 1980's. "Afraid to Shoot Strangers" which for its first four minutes, was the most somber and slow song of the evening until the song took flight for its final three minutes as Nicko McBrain's drums echoed a heart chamber en route to its death. Smoke filled the stage as Dickinson wielded his microphone stand like it was Excalibur. It was followed in quick succession by "The Trooper", which has received a new life thanks to the Metal Evolution series on VH1 which uses it as their theme song. Under a red light, the band was front and center as the six flame chambers danced above their heads on "The Number of the Beast" and when the crowd waited in anticipation for the full throttle attack to see if Dickinson would hit the mammoth wail, no one needed to worry because the crowd delivered it engulfing everyone within an ear shot.
The triple guitar attack of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Jack Gers brought the melodies to the forefront of the songs which bassist Steve Harris unpinned them with his bump and grind svelte rhythm. Listening to Harris' bass on "Run to the Hills" is as bracing as hearing Eddie Van Halen perform "Eruption", he makes the bass guitar capable of things I could not have previously imagined and yet he's simply one piece of the puzzle that makes up Iron Maiden. Despite the upper range of Dickinson's vocals, the band had a brotherhood mentality providing each and every song a deeper level of supremacy, revving the crowd up to levels few could have anticipated, particularly in the near-100 degree heat. "Eddie" made appearances on "Run to the Hills" (dressed like General Custer) "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" and the main set finale "Iron Maiden" which featured Eddie circa 1988 with beating heart in hand and flames emitting from his head. On "Fear of the Dark", Dickinson conducted the crowd like a man at the peak of his powers. He held his hands out to them almost as if he was offering a blessing as they hummed the shadowy melancholy melody back to him. This was what distinguishes Maiden from other bands; the clutch their music has on their audience is rare. Bands work their whole lives to have one or two songs that dig into their fans consciousness, but Maiden has dozens. Even as one can witness on their latest live release En Vivo! you can see first hand the hold they have on their audience. Fanaticism is taken to heights few could dream of.
The Maiden England World Tour finds Iron Maiden at the peak of their powers, it's interactive and downright invigorating. The seventeen song set featured one classic after another, without a single song falling flat. Delivering a superb recreation of their 1988 tour with a few extra bonus songs and features, this is proving to be one of the defining must-see experiences of the summer, even for those who may only casually know the band or their catalog. By focusing on all classic material, the vibe among the crowd is inexpressible since there is no lull in the performance. They perform these songs with the same glowing earnestness of their past. They are a living and breathing example of what bands are capable of when they choose to deliver the goods to their fans. If you're on the fence about seeing the show, it's time to take action. These are Iron Maiden's golden years because the current tour is an epic theatrical experience matched only by the band's examination of life and its mysteries. As suggested by the reception of "Wasted Years", Iron Maiden is still teaching us the sanctified influence and insight music is capable of.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Iron Maiden: The Golden Years