When I was assigned to cover the Iron Maiden show at the Honda Center on September 21st, I was beyond stoked. I had not seen Maiden in decades… literally decades. The last time I saw them was in 1987 for their Somewhere on Tour run. Needless to say, as we all get older, we tend to lose a step or two… except the guys in Iron Maiden, apparently.
I have been to more concerts than I can even begin to recall, but the one thing that struck me about this show the second I made my way in the photo pit was the audible buzz coming from the crowd.
The anticipation and excitement building was intense and palpable.
Maiden brought Trivium with them on this leg of the tour; they are described as a ‘metalcore meets progressive metal’ band. I had never seen them live, but was very impressed. Their sound was full and powerful. Lead singer Matt Heafy’s voice was absolutely fantastic and he had great interaction with the crowd. His striking look, with his shaved head and popping cranial veins, commanded the crowd’s attention. Guitarist Corey Beaulieu’s sound was thunderous, fast and precise. For me, the most entertaining to watch was the bassist Paolo Gregoletto: his movement, poses and dark stares into the crowd were the epitome of a metal performance. They played a total of seven songs:
- “Silence in the Snow”
- “Into the Mouth of Hell We March”
- “The Sin and the Sentence”
- “The Phalanx”
- “The Heart From Your Hate”
- “The Shadow of the Abattoir”
I look forward to catching them on their solo tour in the near future, but they were a great opening band for Iron Maiden, hyping the crowd and priming them for the spectacle to come. As time ticked down, the crowd grew more restless with expectation of what we all knew would be incredible. The crowd was a really diverse mix of people of all ages: there were the hardcore metalheads decked out in their finest leather and denim vests and jackets filled with patches, to lawyer-like seniors in tailored suits. It was quite something to see the mix on the pit rail — from young kids to metalheads, to men and women in their 60’s and 70’s… it didn’t matter, it worked, we were all there to see one of the best metal shows around.
The house lights dropped and the crowd erupted.
“Transylvania” and “Doctor Doctor” played, as the road crew prepared the stage. One by one, the covers and tarps came down, revealing a stage set with faux brick walls and a Japanese pagoda scene. The stage was dark and the spot lights in the rafters flashed above the crowd, the drums started to hit and Iron Maiden hit the stage. The place exploded! The noise was absolutely deafening in the pit! Out came Bruce, Steve, Dave, Adrian, Nicko and Janick to thunderous applause that literally shook the floor. Bruce, decked out in leather pants and a black Jacobite shirt, was welcomed by a deafening mix of screaming and singing as the band opened up with “Senjutsu”. OMG, I forgot how good these guys are!! They were running around the stage, back and forth, interacting with the crowd and each other. Fist pumping, chanting, head-banging and horns flying! How is Bruce Dickinson’s voice this good after all these years? It’s unreal! The stage presence these guys have was exactly what I remember from 35 years ago. While I was shooting a picture of Adrian shredding his green Jackson, the crowd cheers grew to an unbelievable level.
I looked over and saw a ten-foot-tall ‘Samurai Eddie’, with glowing eyes and katana in hand.
He paraded around the stage, swinging his sword around members of the band and prodding the crowd to clap along. “Senjetsu” ended and the band moved directly into the galloping “Stratego”. The light show was simply spectacular; I was truly struck by how good these guys still are, how interactive and active they were. As “Stratego” ended, press was immediately ushered out of the pit. I walked up the aisle, passing hundreds of fans, all with expressions of pure passion on their faces. Bruce greeted the crowd as only he can and they responded with earsplitting screams.
As I settled into the press box high above the arena, I was treated to a spectacular view of the stage and entire arena. It goes without saying that Maiden fans are voracious and passionate, but to see them in their element was something to behold. You know those shows you go to where you look around and see large portions of people sitting or standing and not moving? Yeah… that’s not a Maiden show. I was in awe as the massive crowd jumped, swayed and rocked out. I could see more people singing along than not. A decent size circle pit opened in the middle of the GA floor, while the rest of the people on the floor squeezed in tight and undulated, side-to-side and front-to-back in rippling waves, like an ocean crashing on the shore.
As I was taking it all in, I noticed that the stage backdrop had changed from a Japanese pagoda to a columned church cathedral with a massive stained glass backdrop. Bruce talked to the fans, “Hello Anaheim! How are you? It’s been a long time, but we are back! There’s been a lot of bullshit in the world for the last few years… we all know… but, here we are! We have been all over the world, but we are glad to be back here. There are people from all over the world here in southern California, but it doesn’t matter, because we are all Iron fucking Maiden fans! We are all brothers! We are all blood brothers!” They immediately moved into the pounding “Blood Brothers”.
My god, the harmonics of the three guitars were simply incredible!
One of the highlights of the night was “Sign of the Cross”: the lighting changed to dark red and the sound was dark and foreboding. Monks chanting echoed through the Honda Center and the band could be seen through a deep fog rolling from the stage. Bruce appeared at centerstage in a dark cloak with a cross with lights. The slow marching beat drove the raised hands of the crowd back and forth in time. The backdrop changed again to an ominous view of a skeleton rising from the grave, surrounded by cloaked figures and fire. Chandeliers with red lights swayed high above the stage. During the chorus, 30-foot-tall flames erupted from the stage. While the band moved around alone and together, swaying with the song, Bruce ran around the stage swinging his cloak. The lights turned bright red, the fog rolled, the monks chanted and suddenly, Bruce emerged with a lit-up cross, running behind the drums on a tall riser. The thumping march beat returned as the song came to a slow close, the spotlights flashed in time, lighting up the concert-goers’ enamored faces. As they hit the crescendo, the boys started their ending solos and drove the crowd into a frenzy. Pyro exploded from the light rigs high in the air. As the song ended, the flames burst again, the lights dimmed and Bruce threw the cross off the back of the stage.
Perhaps my favorite moment of the night came with “Flight of Icarus”.
Once again, the backdrop changed to a dark and stormy sky. A giant huddled Icarus figure appeared, wings crossed and head down. The lights came up and lit up the stage in a bath of white light. Bruce emerged to the screams of the crowd wearing a flame thrower. As he sang the lyrics, flames erupted from his hands 15 feet into the air, burst after burst, for the entire song. As the song progressed, Icarus spread his wings and towered above the stage. As the song came to a close, fire burst and Icarus collapsed, falling to his demise behind the drum riser.
Next up was “Fear of the Dark”, one of my absolute favorite Maiden songs. The lights changed to green and purple creating an eerie almost haunting scene. The crowd began to immediately sing. Bruce appeared wearing an old English overcoat, encapsulating the spirit of Jack the Ripper while carrying a lantern with a bright green spotlight and a plague doctor’s mask covering his face. The scene was perfect. As the guitars screamed their siren song, Bruce prompted the crowd to sing and they responded with absolute deafening roars. Bruce cackled with delight. The song went through its tempo changes, Bruce continued to encourage the crowd and they responded passionately. At one point, when the crowd did not scream as loud as previously, Bruce scowled in feigned disapproval, raising his hands in the air and the crowd responded in turn. Bruce smiled.
Following that was a song called “Hallowed”, which was performed to perfection as I have come to expect from this absolute legend of a band. Next up was the song partially responsible for the satanic panic of the 80s: a deep booming voice recited the iconic script of Revelations 13:18:
“Woe to you, oh earth and sea
For the Devil sends the beast with wrath
Because he knows the time is short
Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast
For it is a human number
Its number is six hundred and sixty-six.”
Oh my god, those words and that intro to “Number of the Beast” used to scare people senseless back in the day and did we love that as young Maiden fans! The crowd went absolutely insane as the galloping guitars and drums sounded like rolling thunder through the Honda Center. As they were rolling through the song, guitars were being spun around, handfuls of picks were being tossed to waiting and wanting hands. The backdrop changed to a scene of the fiery abyss of hell, with victims’ hands raised into the air. The church arches were now filled with 50-foot-tall demons, the stage flanked by two large gargoyles and large cauldrons spewed flames into the air. Bruce was in yet another outfit. Holy shit — he can still hit the high notes the vast majority of the time! The biggest pit I have ever seen opened up in the middle of the crowd and there was not a still body in the entire arena! The light show was simply insane during this song!
“Number of the Beast” moved into “Iron Maiden”. The backdrop now included a massive horned inflatable demon, with mouth agape, snarling at the crowed. As the song drew to a close, Bruce thanked the crowd and the band took a well-deserved break after a raucous 90 minutes filled with incredible music, running around the stage and interacting with the enamored crowd. More guitar picks and drumsticks flew, and the band each took a bow as they exited.
Of course, we knew it wasn’t the end.
As the lights dropped again, the band returned to the stage and went straight into “Trooper”. The backdrop was now an image from the iconic album of the same name. Bruce was adorned in a redcoat military jacket waving the Union Jack from the riser above the drums. A minute into the song, the giant Eddie appeared again onstage with his trooper uniform and sword in-hand. He waved the sword towards Bruce to admonish him to not look him that way. Threatened, Bruce jumped down, grabbed a basket sword and engaged in battle with Eddie. Eddie ultimately conceded and bowed to Bruce before returning to his sworn duties of entertaining the crowd. Bruce now waved the American flag and the crowd went insane. The song came to a close and the band moved into “Clansman”. Once again the backdrop changed, now showing Eddie and the kilted worries of the damned. Bruce, still carrying his sword, prompted the crowd to scream.
“Run to the Hills” was up next. Again, the place went insane… I mean, MORE insane, as the energy had not dropped once during the entire show. The lights turned to a dark purple and blue, then flashed to reds and then a combination of both in time with the thundering and galloping drumbeat.
This was another one of my favorite Maiden songs… how does one really settle in on one?!
As the band rumbled through this classic, smoke pots launched clouds of white smoke high above the stage. As the song came to a close, the band members thanked the crowd and more handfuls of picks went flying into the waiting hands. Bruce took to the back of the stage above the risers and positioned himself behind a giant detonator emblazoned with the letters “TNT”. Bruce yelled “it’s my turn, Anaheim! I’m going to blow this place up” as he pushed the plunger down. Smoke, pyro and fire enveloped the stage as the band exited.
For their final encore, they ended on a high note with “Aces High”. The lights went out and the giant video monitors that flanked the stage began to show footage of WWII and the blitz of London. Winston Churchill’s voice echoed through the arena. As the band started playing, the spotlights began to flash, reminiscent of air raid spotlights over London. The lights came up, as the band came back onstage and the song fully hit. A giant Spitfire WWII fighter soared high above the stage, swooping above the heads of the crowd and the band. The guitars screamed in impromptu short solo moments — they were really embellishing this and I am 100% here for it! The crowd was going absolutely insane! The people on the floor were moving in ebbs and flows like a surging tide and the energy in the building and on the stage was simply overwhelming in the best way possible. As the song ended, the crowd erupted in one of the loudest cheers I have ever heard. Bruce and the guys thanked the crowd for the final time, more picks and drumsticks went flying, and drumheads were also sent skyward like flying discs. The show had come to an end and I was desperately left wishing for more.
It had been decades since the last time I had seen Maiden live and many tours had come to town that I now wish I had attended. These guys are the personification of rockstar energy — even in their 60’s (and Nicko his 70’s)!! From the moment they hit the stage, they did not stop moving. They truly put on a show that is hard to beat, in fact, I am going to go out on a limb and say this was one of the best, if not THE best, live show all around that I have seen in years! When Iron Maiden comes to your town, run to the hills to see them! Do not miss it! Even if their music isn’t exactly your favorite, their live show is truly second-to-none. See the full Maiden setlist for the Honda Center show below.
- Doctor Doctor
- “The Writing on the Wall”
- “Blood Brothers”
- “Sign of the Cross”
- “Flight of Icarus”
- “Fear of the Dark”
- “Number of the Beast”
- “Iron Maiden”
- “The Trooper”
- “The Clansman”
- “Run to the Hills”
- Aces High
Photography by Shane Pase