Last time on this trilogy of blog posts that’s taken more time to put together than the trip itself, Sarah and I repeatedly made narrow escapes with our lives on the Streets of San Antonio and I rambled on about lucha libre for a while. But now the time has arrived to fully inform you people on the night of the reason for all this hullabaloo, and I’m not going to be cryptically sneaking Iron Maiden lyrics into this one, (You guys noticed that on the first two parts, right? Right?) because this was the night when they were actually there, right goddamn there, all up in my face, being the face that they were desperately trying to rock completely off of my head. A glorious night of heavy metal and explosions and light and sound and glory and explosions and additional explosions. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, we had to get to the building, which started with a whole lot of “oh no, don’t worry about it, we can drive ourselves there, it’ll fine, no really, driving is fine, seriously we mean it,” which led to Sarah’s dad driving us there, which lead to a refresher course in the True Meaning of Ultimate Terror. Of course, we left pretty early, so no amount of completely inexplicable wrong turns in a straight-line drive down one road could derail our quest to be the lines and get a good spot, right up front, where all the metal was going to happen, with the guitars and the yelling and the explosions and what-have-you. So we got there, and we got in the long-ass line. Awesome. Ten minutes later, oops, that was the wrong line, this one’s not for paperless tickets. So we get in another long-ass line. Ten minutes later, oops, that was the wrong line, this one’s not for general admission. So we get in another long-ass line. Oh hey, this one’s the right line! Oh, but your debit card doesn’t work. So we get in another, albeit much shorter, line and since I am the genius king of men with a smart-ass phone and an email opened up on it right there for all to see with my name and relevant numbers and such-like to show the dude at the ticket resolution counter, BAM, we got tickets all of a sudden. Super great. Of course, all of this running around and getting into the wrong lines and the dude’s card reader being broken because THAT’S TOTALLY A NEW CARD just had to have ruined the whole thing, right? Like the time we lost running around after tickets was going to put us at the back of the arena, behind a giant pillar that’s usually not there for Spurs games, right next to a dude who farts a lot and likes to talk about Ron Paul, right? HA!
Here’s a picture from the “tag yourself” section of Iron Maiden’s Facebook page, taken from right in front of the stage, and while I may be mistaken, that tiny sliver of a bald head that the arrow is pointing to may very well be my head. Can’t be too sure, but I distinctly remember the dude in the hat being directly in front of me and a little to my right. Or for a better view of how things were, here’s this picture of Maiden’s crew clearing all of the opening act’s crap off the stage:
Somehow, we ended up dead center, maybe forty feet or so back, and I had a pretty nice view of pretty much everything. Sadly, I had to specify myself in that last sentence, because Sarah’s pretty much a tiny little Hobbit person, and any situation where people end up standing in front of her is not going to be a good one for looking at things. In a weird sort of way, this worked out okay in the end, because as a Halfling, she had to use her phone’s camera pretty much as a digital periscope to see over everybody, and we ended up with a whole bunch of footage of the show as a result. And since it was done to serve the practical purpose of her actually being able to occasionally see Bruce Dickinson, all that footage doesn’t come with the attached shame of being the asshole at the show who’s got their phone up the whole time, barely paying attention to anything but the phone itself, because MUSHT THE FIRSHT TO GET THEIR VIDEOSH UP ON THE YOUTBUESH SHHHHHHHHTTTBBBTTTTHHHH *fart*. But yeah, somehow, we ended up with decent seats, aside from the part where there were no seats, because we were in the section that wasn’t for pussies, pussy. Then, after maybe another thirty minutes or so, stuff happened.
The problem with an Iron Maiden show is that somehow, they feel that they aren’t enough by themselves and insist on taking along an opening act. And it’s a fairly common thing for a band to be a band that no one else can follow, but Maiden has reached a level where they’re a band that you can’t even precede. I think Henry Rollins did a whole bit on this back in the day, and it’s completely true: There’s no such thing as an opening band at an Iron Maiden concert. The bands playing at Iron Maiden shows in the period of time before Maiden themselves take the stage are merely extended interruptions, obstacles to what everyone is actually there for. If you’re opening for Iron Maiden and are not of equal or greater legendary status , (Like the earlier shows on this tour, who got Alice freakin’ Cooper, instead of this bunch of buncocky that we had to sit through.) the night is not going to go well for you. So while I had previously heard a little bit of Coheed and Cambria’s stuff and fully, completely disliked it, I was ready to feel sorry for them for what I knew was going to end up happening. And yeah, for maybe a few minutes of their boring douche-prog, as I watched their best efforts to rock out met with motionless silence by the Maiden crowd, yeah, I did kind of feel bad for them. Because yeah, they sucked, but they were playing their asses off, and I suppose they suck in a way that’s got to appeal to somebody, or they wouldn’t have become a big enough deal to get on this tour, you know? Then, some bullshit happened.
In what I’m pretty sure was calculated to be the moment where my Heavy Metal Grinch heart was supposed to grow three sizes and let love open the door to my heart for Coheed and Cambria, they busted out into a cover of the Dio-era Black Sabbath classic “Heaven and Hell.” But man, here’s the thing. I know a tiny little guy who sings songs about rainbows and dragons and stuff like that is a thing that probably lends itself well to parody, and I’m sure that the unflattering impression of him that Coheed’s singer can apparently do of Ronnie James Dio was probably pretty funny and entertaining at some point. But you see, once a guy dies, it’s not quite so fucking funny anymore, and especially not fucking funny when you’re using it as some sort of misguided tribute. And it was at that point, as I stood there, wearing my goddamned Dio t-shirt and watching that Polamalu-looking turd switch from his usual high-pitched “Geddy Lee, but if Geddy Lee was an even worse singer than Geddy Lee” vocal style to something that could have only been a “ha ha, let’s make fun of Dio” voice, complete with weird and whacky facial expressions, because guys, heavy metal is such a stupid and comical thing, am I right, building full of tens of thousands of Iron Maiden fans? Ugh. And I know I wasn’t the only one who thought this, because as I looked around, the whole place was a sea disgusted faces, all but literally screaming “I DISAPPROVE OF THIS,” and one dude in front of us actually turned around toward me and bowed down and apologized to my shirt. But man, this was the one moment that truly solidified my opinion of Coheed and Cambria as bullshit forever, and confirmed any preconceived notions I might have had about them as just a bunch of shitty hipsters who had figured out that they were actually really good at playing their instruments, but there was no way to show off doing emo/indie crap, so they reluctantly decided to slum it as something resembling a heavy metal band. And you know, I really don’t want to get all “Manowar True Metal Forevermore” Guy here, but once a certain segment of the douche bag community discovered that wearing old metal shirts got you way more scene cred at the Dashboard Confessional show than REO Speedwagon shirts did, there have been way too many bands clogging up the scene who clearly have a whole “oh, ha ha ha, look at us, heavy metal music, how QUAINT” thing going on, so really fuck Coheed and Cambria forever; they can go die in a giant tire fire somewhere. Except for the drummer, though. He just looked so genuinely thrilled to be here, like “oh man, guys, look at the drums that I am playing, this is GREAT,” and I can’t hate on a guy who seems so happy to be alive. So they can all die except for him, he can have some cake and a Game Boy or something, because he ruled. Screw the other three guys, though. And I’m gonna take the main guy’s two-necked guitar from him and hide it somewhere, because he somehow managed to make the 12-string half of it sound exactly like the 6-string half, and it was just so unnecessary. But yeah, before the show, I was not a Coheed and Cambria fan; after the show, I officially became a Coheed and Cambria enemy. Also, to whoever came up with their stage setup and lighting and such: Lighting placed above the band is supposed to point down. You got that right, nice. However: Lights placed behind the band need to point up, preferably through smoke for visibility. If lights are placed behind the band and then aimed down at the audience, all they do is shine directly in the audience’s eyes, temporarily blinding us, followed by filling us with the hateful rage of a thousand angry bees. SO YOU DON’T DO THAT. So stupid.
After that, all of their crap was whisked away by the roadies, and almost as if to serve as an apology for the previous half hour or so, the PA system blasted a bunch of old metal/heavier classic rock stuff, like Judas Priest and Deep Purple, while we all waited for the thing we came here for to happen. It was a pretty uneventful half-hour or so, except for this one big tubbo in a hockey jersey who we overheard responding to someone’s disapproval of the aforementioned “Heaven and Hell” situation with a really nasal-sounding “eh, it’s okay, he’s dead now anyway.” Made me want to fog up his nerd glasses and hang him upside down from something, while I broke all his DVDs of Kevin Smith movies. Sorry, I’m just kind of pent-up about people who can’t appreciate Ronnie James Dio, you know? Speaking of which, going back in time to outside the building before the show started, this older-looking dude in a jean jacket smothered in band logo patches just sort of looked over at me, yelled “RONNIE JAMES” and kept walking, and for some reason, it was the coolest thing ever. Someday, I’m gonna get me a jean jacket and be the old dude at the show who appreciates the younger dude’s shirt. I think I actually have a Sacred Reich patch somewhere already. Anyway, we just stood and chilled for a while, and when all the roadies disappeared, the lights got all weird, and the band’s unofficial real opening act – a recording of UFO’s “Doctor Doctor” – played, we knew we were about to see some shit.
Imagine this, but RIGHT UP FRONT.
This tour was a kinda-sorta recreation of the one they did for the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album way back when, so “Moonchild” was the obvious opener, which kind of screwed me, because I pretty much knew not a single word to it, and while the rest of the crowd (Except for maybe the one dude in a hat who actually dug the hell out of Coheed and Cambria) was keeping up with Bruce Dickinson the whole time, I was just sort of silent, then going “MOOOOONCHIIIIILD” emphatically during the chorus, because I at least remembered that much. And man, that’s the crazy thing with an Iron Maiden crowd. They know all the words to everything, ever. Like you’d look around, and not a single person’s mouth would be doing anything other than the exact same thing Bruce’s mouth was doing, and it made me feel all False Metal™ at times, because I could usually go word-for-word for the stuff from the Greatest Hits albums, but when they did “Afraid to Shoot Strangers,” I was completely lost, and on “Iron Maiden” (the song) I would know some words here and there, but blank on others. So when that would happen, any attempt to sing along went something like “Won’t you come into my room, I wanna show you all my wares, something-something BLOOD, mumble-mumble STAIRS,” and if anyone could actually hear me, it would have been awful, and they would have stopped the show, and I would have been politely asked to leave. Also, toward the beginning of the video Sarah got of “The Number of the Beast,” (It was the last blog post before this one, but [–SPOILERS–] I’m gonna put it right below this paragraph anyway.) you can clearly hear someone yell “IT’S ALWAYS THERE,” a good two seconds too early, and memory is fuzzy, but that seriously might have been me that did that.
“IT’S ALWAYS THERE! Oops.”
And during this show even more so than the Mayhem Festival the month before, I learned that I actually can sing, as long as I’m in a situation where not only can no one hear me do it, but I can’t hear it either. And I don’t mean “can sing” as in “sing with any sort of talent or skill;” I mean it in the sense that I can attempt and complete the physical act of singing. So as long as I was drowned out by a band being piped through a wall of amps and a few thousand screaming people, I was giving it my all, by god, like even trying to hit notes and such. I’m pretty sure that if I had been secretly miked up during all this, it would have been the sound of true horror, like the squealing of a thousand pigs suffering a thousand incredible deaths of a thousand terrible cuts in hell or something. But as long as no one knew what was happening in my general mouth/throat area, it was fine, because I was a rock star, and you can’t take that from me. YOU CAN’T TAKE IT FROM MEEEE.
But enough about me, let’s go back to talking about people that are actually good at music. This probably goes without saying if you’ve ever seen them or even know all that much about them, but those dudes were ON that night. You’d never know that this was just one show out of another few dozen shows just like it or that they’re all pushing sixty years old at this point, because they spent the whole time just flying around the stage, in much the same way they might have done thirty years ago, and no one ever missed a beat or sounded anything less than studio-perfect. And Bruce Dickinson is pretty much the ultimate front man of all-time at this point. There is never a single wasted second with that guy, and he never just stands still, doing nothing. If he’s not running around, jumping over things, or jumping off of things, he’ll bust out the serious rock star poses, using his free hand to put a physical exclamation point on every single word. Even if he wasn’t Bruce Dickinson and even if this wasn’t Iron Maiden, it would still be amazing to watch the man work. Like if Lemmy wasn’t Motorhead’s Lemmy, he’d just be some guy, standing near-motionless and singing into a microphone that should probably be set half a foot lower than it is. But if Maiden was some crappy little band you’d never heard of, Bruce would still be a pretty awe-inspiring dude to watch.
Of course, he’s not the only dude in the band, even if he is the guy you notice the most. For the most part, Adrian Smith and Dave Murray stuck to their side of the stage and did normal guitar playing stuff, (And being a drummer, Nicko McBrain had to just sit on a stool the whole night, barely visible) but man, Steve Harris was intense. He was running around all over the damn place almost as much as Bruce was, but would spend a lot of time right up front, in the classic one-foot-on-the-amp pose, staring us all down with this really severe, “I AM GOING TO MURDER ALL OFF YOUR FACES OFF WITH THE SOUND OF THIS BASS GUITAR LISTEN TO HOW IT SOUNDS LISTEN TOOOO IIIIITTTTT” look. Iron Maiden is pretty much his band anyway, and it’s been said that he always had a real big “I have to be right up front, and you must all pay attention to me” thing going, which might explain why they always have a big, crazy, multi-level stage setup; So Harris can be right in your face, while Dickinson still has room to do all his crazy Bruce Dickinson stuff. And even though it’s weird for a bass player to be all “in your face,” and it’s even weirder for three lead guitars to actually play at a lower volume than the bass, he did do that “this bass is really a machine gun, and I am shooting you all with it” thing a couple times, so it’s all good in the end. Man, now that I think of it, within a one-month period, I was imaginarily shot to death by both Lemmy’s bass guitar rifle and Steve Harris’s bass guitar machine gun. I’m pretty sure that has the makings of a good superhero origin story in it somewhere. Maybe I should start fighting evil.
If there was another band member I’d have to single out for special recognition, it would have to be the band’s third lead guitar player (yeah, they have three, seriously guys) Janick “the J is pronounced like a Y” Gers. Because of the three, he might be the most ridiculous as a guitar player, occasionally going beyond “hey, he is good at playing music with that guitar he has” and extending fully into “oh man, he’s just showing off now” territory. Like all of a sudden, he’d just bust out with the whole “ha ha, I am holding my hand over the neck, even though it would make more sense to go under, but screw that, because I AM JANICK GERS and my hands move super-fast” and whatnot. Also, the bulk of their material (as in all of it before 1999 or so) was written with two guitar players in mind, and sometimes there was no way to squeeze the third guy in, so he’d just have to find ways to amuse himself while the other two went nuts. Like Smith and Murray would be on one side doing some crazy back-and-forth soloing, but I’d be more captivated by Gers just having a big ol’ time on his on, throwing his guitar in the air or swinging it over his shoulder by the strap, or engaging in a sword battle with the giant walking Eddie that came out during “Run to the Hills.” At one point, he just found a random cable laying on the stage and starting twirling it around like he was Will Rogers or something. I know, it’s probably unnecessary to have a third guitar dude around, but along with the two main guys and the props and the ‘splosions and such, Janick Gers was one of the most entertaining parts of the night.
But speaking of props and ‘splosions, this is why no mere DVD (Or VHS, if you’re old enough, and if you’re Google searching for Iron Maiden, you probably are) can ever really serve as a substitute for the real thing. Because if you’re right there in person, you gain a new appreciation for all the excesses of a big-budget production that you can’t get from a video. When you’re seeing thirty foot tall, (I’m just guessing, maybe bigger, maybe smaller) three-dimensional, moving reproductions of the covers of Seventh Son or the “The Clairvoyant” single, or when a gigantic, walking Eddie starts attacking members of the band and flipping you off, or when you instantly feel the room get a million degrees warmer from a giant column of flame going up, or when the whole place goes dark and Winston Churchill’s speech plays before “Aces High,” or hell, like a million other moments, that’s when shit gets real. That’s when the experience goes beyond watching a band play music and becomes this whole big transcendent thing, like a freaking heavy metal religious experience. Like I was born again; forgiven for the fact that I was never willing to grow my hair all long while I still could and for all those Hot Water Music CDs sitting over there. (By the way, if any internet people who are into that sort of thing read this, is Exister a thing worth checking out, or is it the Virgil? I’m leery of “comeback” CDs and too lazy to listen to internet samples.) You forget that you’ve got a job to go to or bills to pay, or that you’ve only got thirteen dollars in the bank, or that immediately following the show, you may not survive the ride back to the hotel. None of that matters, because goddammit, Bruce Dickinson just yelled out, “Scream for me, San Antonio” for the twelfth time that night, and by god, I am in San Antonio, so I must scream for him. It’s the sort of thing that makes you eventually realize that your face hurts really bad, because you’ve seriously been hugely smiling for the last two hours. Of course, once Coheed was off the stage and people decided to actually start enjoying themselves, the place got pretty much immediately fogged with the kind of smoke normally associated with reggae concerts, so there’s a pretty good chance that my smile was at least a little bit of an illegal one, but it wasn’t my fault, you know?
The only problems the whole night were the godawful, infuriatingly bad opening act and the fact that the band didn’t play “Hallowed be Thy Name,” “Stranger in a Strange Land,” or anything recorded after 1991. I know, I understand the idea of doing a “greatest hits” style set, and older bands tend to stick to the older material on those, but hell, “El Dorado” just won a Grammy not too long ago, so why not throw it in? Anyway, overall, it was all good, and Sarah, me, and a couple ten thousand other people had our faces thoroughly rocked off, like all we have left are just meat faces with no skin, so now we all have to walk around all bandaged up like the Invisible Man. Really though, you had to be there to fully grasp how ridiculous the whole thing was, because words can’t do it justice, especially from one as scatter-headed and forgetful as I am. One of the best parts actually happened after the concert, where they officially signaled that the show was over by piping in “always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian over the P.A, system, which of course everyone sang along with as the lights came up and we all filed out of the arena. And before we knew it, there was a circle of at least ten of us, maybe more, all rocking back and forth arm-in-arm, singing along with Eric Idle, while the Official Iron Maiden Camera Dude stood in the middle, capturing the whole thing, presumably in high-definition. So yeah, if Maiden ever puts out some sort of Maiden England official DVD, (and I have no reason to believe that they won’t) there’s a pretty good chance that we might be on the damn thing. Crazy end to a pretty crazy night. If Iron Maiden is even remotely your kind of thing, if they come even remotely close to where you live, and if you have the money, (A crapload of money, to be honest. Tickets ate a healthy chunk of my tax refund this year) you need to go to one of their shows before you die. Otherwise, you might WASTE YOUR TIME SEARCHING FOR THOSE WASTED YEARS
(I had to sneak some Maiden lyrics in there somewhere at least once.)