DATE: Friday 5th August 2011
VENUE: O2 Arena in London, UK
Reviews by Mark Holmes
Apart from three warm-up shows in small club venues around mainland Europe at the end of last month, Dragonforce have been off the touring circuit for over a year and a half so there's a sense of "in at the deep end" for the power metallers this evening. Undoubtedly, it's also something of a daunting task for new vocalist Marc Hudson who was announced as the replacement earlier this year for original frontman ZP Theart who parted company with the band in 2010. With London's O2 Arena only a third full as they take to the stage at 7:30pm, an hour after doors open, it seems they are not too popular a choice of support act amongst the Maiden aficionado. However, many of those who have turned out to see Dragonforce in action on these shores for the first time since their December 2009 UK tour greet the band with welcoming cheers. Unfortunately, right from the very first song, 'Heroes of Our Time', and throughout their forty five minute set, they sound terrible. A bass heavy mix renders most keyboards and rhythm guitar parts largely inaudible with drums and bass guitar dominating. Only vocals and the treble of the guitar solos cut through the low-end sonics. Newcomer Hudson sings well, similar in style to his predecessor although he needs to work on his stage entrance as simply wandering on and slowly walking up to your band mates with little acknowledgement of the audience will do little to win over a gig crowd in any size venue. The rest of the band look good on the O2's massive stage with guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman running around energetically and striking all the right poses so it's somewhat of a shame that there's no aural clarity in what they play as this dampens the efficacy of their performance. And when they play set closer 'Through the Fire and Flames', Totman, Li and bassist Frédéric Leclercq take centre stage for a lengthy instrumental passage which leaves Hudson looking slightly awkward and eventually resigns himself to one corner where he attempts to enliven only a small section of fans rather than the audience en masse. But, fair play to the guy, apart from his evident inexperience of communicating with such a large audience, he still does fairly well under the circumstances. Dragonforce as a whole, though, ultimately suffer from the aforementioned sound problems which probably means they'll win over few, if any, new fans based on this evening's performance.
Penultimate date of Iron Maiden's Final Frontier World Tour, and the first of two sold out shows at London's O2 Arena, a rather warm Friday evening near the beginning of August sees Bruce Dickinson and co return to the UK's capital in support of their latest studio album. It's no surprise, therefore, that Maiden's touring setlist features a strong presence of material from 'The Final Frontier' but, balanced out with a number of perennial fan favourites, it promised to be a night of unadulterated metal merriment amongst 16,000 fans with a mutual adoration for the genre's most esteemed and seminal band. Advertised to commence at 8:45pm, lights remain on in the venue as UFO's 'Doctor Doctor' plays through the PA which signifies the imminent arrival of Maiden on stage. There's a mixed-aged crowd of the band's loyal supporters throughout the arena tonight, from the pre-pubescent to the grey haired veterans, but it seems to be predominantly the older contingent who voice Phil Mogg's words in a mass sing-a-long. The track finishes, lights dim, and deafening cheers fill the O2 as the intro music from 'Satellite 15...The Final Frontier' rings forth and moving heads positioned around the stage flash bursts of red light on a discernibly excited audience. Five or so minutes in, with the atmosphere suitably set and tension built, Dickinson is illuminated stage left, foot on monitor speaker and poised with head down, pumping the air with his fist to the final beats of the track's lengthy intro. A brief moment of silence follows with Dickinson motionless, then the song resumes with full-on live Maiden fury as the singer's bandmates emerge from the shadows at the back of the stage to commence their aural assault. It's a simple, but well choreographed and efficacious, opening to the show. With the Iron Maiden engine now revved up and in full motion, and the arena transformed into a sea of moving bodies with fists raised up high in the air, it's refreshing to hear a near-perfect sound through the PA, particularly after the disastrous mess of aural muddiness that marred Dragonforce's set.
Another new track, 'El Dorado', follows which prompts Dickinson to yell out the first instance of his now famous utterance - "scream for me London", to which the vociferous crowd oblige. However, it's the third song, 'Two Minutes To Midnight', a veritable classic in Maiden's back catalogue, that noticeably compels the audience into unabated revelry as some good old fashioned moshing erupts in the standing area and fans sing along to every word. A duo of new tracks follow, 'The Talisman' and 'Coming Home', and then an airing of the title track from 2003 album 'Dance of Death', all of which are well received but it's the older material that genuinely pumps up the crowd so when a banner for 'The Trooper' appears at the back of the stage, the O2 erupts once again, as it does for the two 'Brave New World' songs that follow - 'The Wicker Man' and 'Blood Brothers'. The latter is preceded by Dickinson seeking assurance from the audience that all sounds okay from out front as it's Maiden's first time playing the venue - ubiquitous cheers of approval reassure him of such, and then he proceeds to talk about the unifying power of metal regardless of creed, race or gender which receives yet more cheers and applause from those present.
Although the stage is a spectacle in itself, dressed as it is in the space thematic from 'The Final Frontier' concept, with changing backdrops relevant to each song aired, and two large screens mounted high up either side that show all the action with multi-camera angles to benefit those who are seated way back in the venue, it’s the band themselves who are the main focal point. Dickinson is ceaselessly energetic throughout as he tirelessly bounds around the stage, often with dramatic leaps over the centre monitor speakers. Steve Harris’ unfaltering passion for what he does is axiomatic in his facial expressions, wielding and playing his bass as if a weapon with which he unleashes part of Maiden’s metal attack. The tenacious trio of guitarists are also on fine form - Dave Murray still grins his way through the entire night, Adrian Smith always impresses with his intricate and melodically infused soloing and tonight is no exception, and Janick Gers remains the perpetual showman with a stage presence as energetic as Dickinson’s, the antithesis to Murray and Smith's more laidback stage personas. Then there's the crazy man behind his kit, Nicko McBrain, providing a flawless and solid backbone to Maiden's overall sound.
The 10+ minutes of 'When the Wild Wind Blows' is the last of the new album tracks to appear which leaves way for a series of classics to end the night. 'The Evil That Men Do' includes an appearance of the 'Predator'-esque incarnation of Eddie from 'The Final Frontier' as his twelve foot stature strides clumsily around the stage, equipped with a camera as the point-of-view footage is shown on the screens. 'Fear of the Dark' engenders the most buoyant sing-a-long of the night before the guitar intro to the band's eponymously titled track, 'Iron Maiden', signifies the end of the pre-encore set and the night's second appearance of Eddie as his huge head and hands appear in front of a starry backdrop. All band members then exit the stage, two or three minutes of "Maiden...Maiden...Maiden" chants ensue before the sinisterly spoken intro to 'Number of the Beast' resonates around the O2 and they reappear to launch into the song - bizarrely, Murray truncates his solo by bending up a string and sustaining the note instead of finishing his piece (did he temporarily lose his place?!). 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' and 'Running Free' complete the encores with Dickinson introducing the band and leading the audience into a sing-a-long during the latter. Bows are then taken, plectrums and sweaty wrist bands are hurled into the crowd with McBrain last to leave the stage after he lobs drum sticks all over the arena. Reputable for their flawless and enthralling live shows, Maiden, tonight, have proved themselves still capable of such in 2011. And with Dickinson's promise to the O2 audience of at least one more album, here's hoping that materialises soon with another concomitant tour. When a band leaves you wanting more, as soon as possible, they're obviously doing something very right. Actually, some will get their next Maiden fix the following night as when Dickinson asks how many are also coming tomorrow, a significant portion of the crowd yell out "Yes". For others, the wait will be a little longer. Either way, Iron Maiden's return to London has been an unmitigated success. Sheer fucking awesomeness.