Sunday, October 29, 2006

Scream for me, Jersey

Muslims flock to Mecca. Jews revere Jerusalem. Hindus have their four dhams. And I attain salvation at an Iron Maiden concert (yes, I had seen them at Ozzfest 2005, but a person is allowed to make more than one pilgrimage, isn't he?)

Iron Maiden playing A Matter of Life and DeathOn Friday, the 13th of October, 2006, I headed to Hackensack, New Jersey to attend Iron Maiden's Matter of Life and Death concert. There was no Black Sabbath this time. No Mudvayne either. What was there, however, was the added incentive of meeting long-lost friend Vinod at the concert. All right, so he wasn't exactly lost. And technically speaking, we didn't meet at the concert. But it was the first time I had met him in almost eight years. Could hardly recognize him too. He has put on a few vanity pounds, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, it was great meeting him and chatting at length about the good ol' days.

After we'd done chatting, and stuffing our faces, Vinod and I headed out to Hackensack. Getting to Hackensack, however, is trickier than it sounds. Starting off from DC, for instance, one has to take an Amtrak train to New York, get on the subway to the World Trade Center, use a Path train to get across to NewPort, and finally hop on to the NJ Light Rail to Hackensack. Now I have nothing against trains, but by the time we got to Hackensack, I was beginning to feel more than a little siderodromophobic. Once in Jersey, we caught up with Shashank and commenced our short drive to the Continental Airlines Arena.

Short drive, yes. But it took us forever to get there. Thanks to the NJ civic authorities, who decided that Friday evening was the perfect time to dig up two-thirds of the road. We crawled and cursed and reached the arena at 8:45 pm, full fifteen minutes after the scheduled start. Thankfully, Iron Maiden, in all their magnanimity, had deferred their performance till nine o' clock to compensate for the traffic. If only all bands were this understanding.

The set-list of the show had been published all over the Maiden message boards, so there was no real surprise there. The show started with an off-stage rendition of Doctor, Doctor, just as it had done in the Early Years set last year. It was followed by the band bursting on the stage and immediately breaking off into A Matter of Life and Death.

Ever since I first heard the album, I'd known it would sound great live. And the band didn't disappoint. From the racy Different World to the symphonic The Legacy, it was one hell of a ride. Bruce may have lost his high-pitched wail, but proved that he could still marshall the troops admirably. Nicko was rock solid as ever, and the three amigos continued their fine form. Steve, the backbone of the band, stood mostly in the corner, playing the gallop and mouthing words from the album. It's a good thing they don't let him near a microphone.

Eddie shooting at the crowd with a cameraThere weren't too many on-stage gimmicks. Just a few fireworks during Greater Good of God, and a bit of a light show towards the end of the album. Oh, and Eddie made an appearance in a tank. And shot at the crowd. With a camera! Err... it's not like the Maiden fan is an endangered species, Eddie. Oh, well. Coming to the point, I really liked the live versions of These Colours Don't Run and The Longest Day. The former may well be my new favourite song on the album.

Once through with the new album, Maiden switched to retro mode and played some of their older numbers, inducing a lot more crowd participation in the process. They started off with Fear of the Dark, which expectedly got the crowd going. That was followed by an extended version of Iron Maiden, with the twelve-foot Eddie walking on stage. As the song ended, the band suddenly disappeared and the lights dimmed. A few chants of "Iron Maiden" later, Bruce reappeared. "Nicko here tells me that we've been off for a good five minutes. I don't think it was five. It was more like two. Two Minutes ... to Midnight". "Whoa! That was cool", I thought to myself. Indeed, it was.

There have been some that have complained about Maiden playing Two Minutes to Midnight on this set. But I think it fit in wonderfully with the anti-war theme of AMoLaD. So did the wonderfully stirring The Evil That Men Do that followed. They cannot play that song live frequently enough, if you ask me. The concert ended with the ever-popular Hallowed be Thy Name, with the chorus of the crowd rivaling Bruce. I unfortunately had lost my voice by then, a full night of screaming taking its toll.

The show ended a little after eleven o' clock, and we headed back home sharing our favorite Maiden stories. All right, all right. I shared the stories, and the others put up a brave front. In any case, we avoided the trains on the way back.

The one problem, if you can call it that, with an Iron Maiden concert is that it always leaves you craving for more. I can't wait till they come back to these shores again. Next time I will be in the front row.

[Photographs courtesy Vinod]


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