Photo, Alexander Hallag
Last weekend was pretty epic, because not only did we manage to chop down some 15 trees that were growing dangerously close to our house, but we also got to see two of the biggest bands in metal within 4 days of each other.
Thursday night was Black Sabbath. This was to be one of their final ever shows, as part of their The End tour – a grim pronouncement brought about by Iommi’s battle with lymphoma. Opening band Rival Sons weren’t memorable, and I’m not sorry I spent the first half of their set sitting in a bar drinking whisky with friends. At precisely 9:45, the screen erupted with a short animation, and then the first iconic chords of “Black Sabbath” filled the stadium, the last time that song would ever be played live.
They rolled out hit after hit, “Fairies Wear Boots”, “Into the Void”, “Snowblind”, “War Pigs”, “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” … an endless onslaught of heavy bass and deep, thundering riffs. A highlight for me was “After Forever”, which is probably my favourite Sabbath songs.
I was very, very, VERY skeptical about this show, and honestly wasn’t expecting to enjoy it that much. I’ve seen Iommi and Butler perform with Heaven & Hell twice, and they were incredible, but I’ve also seen Ozzy twice, and both times (but particularly the last time, at Wacken) I watched him butcher his way through some of the most-loved Sabbath songs while running around like a maniac and basically making a bit of a fool of himself.
This time, Ozzy wasn’t jumping around trying to be mad. He’d pulled his hair down over his face, and he bent over the mic, wrapped head to toe in black, pouring himself into the songs. The result was a more intimate, haunting performance. It was what a Sabbath concert should be – there was no pageantry, they let the music speak for itself.
Iommi and Butler were, of course, perfect. Butler shined during Beyond the Wall of Sleep. Holy shit, that gave me chills.
Oh, and Tommy Clufetos did a drum solo, and it was bloody good. I’m not a drummer, so I can’t say I really notice the absence of Bill Ward. Clufetos did a bang-up job in my opinion.
I’d actually sold my seated Sabbath ticket some months ago because I was supposed to be going to a conference during the show, but that fell through so I had to buy a standing ticket. It was pretty neat being right in the thick of the crowd, although my friend John did have to take a flying leap across the pit to save me from getting caught in a scrap between two dudes. Bless wonderful friends! Apart from that it was a great crowd and everyone was really into it.
It feels very full-circle to be listening to the final show of the first heavy metal band, to say goodbye to one of the bands that helped to first enchant me with this music. I missed a lot in the early metal scene by being born about 20 years too late, but I got to be here for this.
We returned to the city on Sunday night for Iron Maiden. This is my fourth time seeing the NWOBHM greats, and I think it’s one of my favourites so far (although the first time was pretty special – Earl’s Court, in London, just before Christmas. We were front row. Anyway …
Maiden are currently touring to promote their new album, Book of Souls, which explores themes and stories from Mayan mythology. Although I’m not crazy about every song on the album, I think overall the best they’ve put out in the last ten years, and it was cool to see those songs performed live. Bruce Dickinson has been recovering from cancer but you wouldn’t know it from the way he works the stage, running and leaping and pouring everything into putting on an incredible show.
In true Maiden style, the stage was decked out to resemble a Mayan pyramid, with elaborate painted backdrops and idols aplenty. A cutout section in the middle barely contained Nicko’s drum kit. The show opens with a short animation of Ed Force One being stuck in a jungle, before being thrown into the air by a huge demonic hand. This band really do know how to create a theatrical experience.
And the setlist! Oh, the setlist! Maiden rocked their way through most of the songs on the new album, including my two favourites “The Red and The Black”, and “Book of Souls”. But they interspersed these between what Bruce termed “legacy” songs – the metal classics we love. This was much better than what I expected. When I saw them in London, they played the entirely of Matter of Life and Death in one go, and then finished with five legacy songs. Mixing things up made for a much more balanced, energetic set.
Maiden has so many incredible songs, and every time I’ve seen them they’ve chosen a different selection. This time was such a treat, with “The Trooper”, “The Number of the Beast”, “Powerslave”, “Wasted Years”, “Fear of the Dark” (probably the best live song, ever), “Children of the Damned”, and “Blood Brothers” – a treat for me as that’s one of my two favourite Maiden songs and I never would’ve expected to hear it live. Bruce sang this wearing an All Blacks jersey and I was crying by the end of that one. It was stunning and I am a sap.
(If you’re curious, my other favourite song is “Running Free”, although my favourite album is actually Seventh Son of a Seventh Son).
We had seated tickets for this show, and they were literally the best seated tickets I’ve ever had. At the back, right at the front of the top tier, directly in the centre, facing the stage. It felt like Bruce was singing at me.
The cancer has clearly affected Bruce’s voice, but I actually preferred this performance. Usually he’s so on-the-note you can’t hardly tell it’s not a track, but this time he was live and raw and very real, while still hitting those soaring choruses we love. The man is a consummate showman, and he knows how to get every single person in the place into the music.
Of course, the rest of the band were incredible, too. They make it all look so easy. All I could see of Nicko was drumsticks flying in the air. Steve Harris is such a fan favourite, every time he appeared on the screens, people around us would cheer. The three guitarists that give Maiden their signature sound – Dave Murray, Janick Gers, and Adrian Smith – were in fine form. Janick was pulling out all the stops on his moves, swinging his guitar around his neck and throwing huge leg kicks.
And, of course, there was Eddie.
What I love so much about Maiden is that even though they are so over-the-top, there’s no prevention in their shows. They pour everything they have into the music and into bringing that music to you. There is nothing but space between the stage and the audience – Maiden are just six mates who get to do this awesome thing because we’re there to enjoy it. I always come away feeling privileged to be a part of such a big, fun metal family, and like I want to create things that people will enjoy, too.
Then I went home, and slept. Because I am not 20 anymore, and two days of partying is about as much as I can handle.
Did you go to one/both of these shows? What did you think?
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