By Natalie Zed and Sean Palmerston; Live photography by Albert Mansour
It’s a bit of a challenge for me to write about this particular show experience. The typical rules of a metal-show review don’t work for Iron Maiden. The set list was circulated long before the show took place, complete with encore, so reporting on that seems unnecessary. Of course the musicianship was excellent. Of course the set pieces and special effects rocked. Of course the sound was blistering and the lighting incredible. Bruce Dickinson positively flew onto the stage, leaping over monitors and climbing the rocketship set, and did not stop moving the whole time. The unflagging energy and enthusiasm exhibited by the entire band was fantastic—but also, I realized, expected.
I am not even sure that I need to discuss the tribute to Ronnie James Dio that Bruce offered, dedicating “Blood Brothers” to the fallen icon. The moment actually made me get a bit teary-eyed, watching thousands of horns raised skyward; it was deeply moving. I also knew it was going to happen, having read reviews of shows in Edmonton and Saskatoon as this tour gradually moved East through Canada. Unlike most metal tours, The Final Frontier tour has been meticulously documented in photographs and live reviews in publications across the Internet.
So. How to talk about it?
First, I suppose I should get personal. This was my very first Iron Maiden show. Prior to this particular Saturday night, I was a Maiden virgin—a Maiden maiden, if you’d like. I joked about my imminent “deflowering” ahead of time, and then after the show, found that my there was a deep grain of truth running through those statements. Once my “Maidenhead” had been claimed by this show, I felt…different. Like my devotion to metal had somehow been consummated.
Enjoying Iron Maiden is deeply personal; it is also a collective, communal experience. This was driven home as soon as I stepped onto the lawn and surveyed the crowd. 16,000 people were packed into the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre. Prior to this, I doubt I’ve been in a room with as many as 1600. Never having been to Wacken or Download or another major festival, I’d never seen so many metalheads all in one place. And because this was Maiden, they came in droves, from all over the GTA and beyond, filling every Go-Train into the city and every streetcar heading down to the venue with an army of cheerful folks in hideous t-shirts. I saw many families there, gangly kids just as excited as their slightly rotund and balding parents, grinning ear to ear. A crowd of 16,000 people, all completely thrilled to be there, singing and screaming their lungs out for an hour and a half, is a remarkable thing to be a part of.
Of course Iron Maiden were fantastic. They couldn’t help be. The crowd allowed them to be wonderful, willed the entire show to be nothing less.
While this was Natalie’s Zed’s first time seeing Iron Maiden in any capacity, I think this was actually my twelfth time seeing them since 1988 – and third time in this very venue – so obviously my experience being at the show would be quite different. I’ve seen every Toronto show by the band since the Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son tour, with the exception of the A Matter Of Life And Death tour, which was missed due to my youngest son being very ill at the time. I’ve seen Maiden at their highest and at their lowest, figuratively speaking, and I have to say one thing about Saturday’s show: Good on Iron Maiden for sticking to their guns.
Saturday’s show was a real Iron Maiden show, done with passion and vigour and integrity. It was a show made for their die hard, long-supporting fans. This was no greatest hits run-through, this was a band celebrating the fact that, after more than thirty years as a professional band, some of their greatest musical achievements have been on their past three studio albums. The main set contained only three classic songs, “Wrathchild”, “Fear Of The Dark” and “Iron Maiden”, while the rest were drawn from Brave New World, Dance of Death and A Matter of Life And Death. That’s a lot of fine music to draw from, and the band did so very, very well.
From the kick off of “The Wickerman” through the Dio-dedicated “Blood Brothers” to “These Colours Don’t Run” Maiden clearly showed why they are still one of the greatest – if not the greatest – metal bands ever. Even the mid-set inclusion of new song “El Dorado” (taken from their upcoming new album and apparently one of the most average songs on it, according to insiders that have heard the entire thing) had the 16,000 in attendance on their feet, pumping their fists in the air in approval.
It felt like the band could do no wrong on Saturday and as a longtime supporter and fan it was a gratifying experience to be a part of. Since 1999, the band had really rebuilt their following with the return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith into the line-up. They have moved up in audience size with every consecutive, going from under 3000 for the Brave New World show at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre to 16,000 this time around and that is with fans knowing going in that this was not going to be another nostalgic greatest hits show like the 2008 tour was. This was a meat and potatoes tour and I’ll be damned if we all didn’t wanna get our faces stuffed.
It should also be noted that Dream Theater were a great opener on this particular evening. Sticking mainly to their “hits” for their 55 minute set, the band played fan faves like “Pull Me Under” and “A Rite Of Passage” during their half-dozen tunes. Vocalist James LaBrie seemed in a better mood than their Amphitheatre show last summer and the band as a whole seemed more poised for attack, probably knowing they wanted to try and wow the sometimes difficult Maiden supporters. They did themselves proud and had to have won over some new fans to the fight ahead too.
I only have one small complaint about the show – the merchandise. It was the fourth Maiden show in a row that I’ve been to and tried to buy one of their football jerseys, only to find out yet again (and this time before 7PM) that the biggest size available at ANY of the stalls was a Medium. Do they just not make enough of these or are their new jerseys just so popular that they can’t keep them in stock? Maiden also needs to make children’s sized t-shirts too. I always try to pick up a shirt for my older son who’s seven, so if someone could consider that too. Thanks in advance.