Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

Motorhead / Dio / Iron Maiden
Cricket Pavilion

Phoenix, Arizona—August 22, 2003

Review by ICE MAIDEN

What a bill. Faced with who was playing, and the fact that they weren't going to be playing anywhere near Oregon, I assessed where I would most like to travel to see IRON MAIDEN—one of my favorite bands of all time. Coercing a friend into joining me with promises of giving her the chance to relax poolside and get spa treatments while I was at the show, the decision was made: Phoenix.

Touching down in the airport, I remembered that whole thing about Phoenix being in the desert. It was hot. Africa hot. Sauna hot. I'm melting a la Wicked Witch of the West hot. Hot. What do you do when you are faced with this kind of heat? Well, if you are sane, you head for the nearest pool. Instead, we headed for In and Out Burger. That's right, folks. Any of you from the Southern West Coast know the value of an In and Out Burger, "animal style." And it was at the In and Out that I saw my first lad of the day in a Maiden shirt. Ah…metalheads have such good taste…

After a quick stop to do some shopping and get pedicures (I don't care if you don't care—this is my review, and I was having a GREAT day!), we stopped to get some drinks. The store clerk was talking to a co-worker about how she was so excited for the evening. On a hunch, I inquired—"Heading to Maiden?" She looked at me with complete joy and said, "YES! I'm so excited!" Which, of course, meant that we both had to discuss the last shows we had seen, how fabulous it was to have Brucey back (she missed the last two tours), etc. This is great! Everyone's going to Maiden!

We stopped by the hotel for me to drop off bags and my friend. Thanks to a connection my friend had, we were staying at a REALLY nice place, for really cheap. I had moments of feeling awkward as I walked through the marble lobby in my Dissection shirt, but that promptly melted away when the valet asked me if I was going to the Maiden show and told me how jealous he was since he had to work. The valet liked Maiden!

I found the venue without incident. As always at a metal arena show, there were metalheads of every shape and size in the parking lot. (It's a nice and rare thing to see so many metal fans in the US.) Many were blaring various Maiden albums on car stereos and holding impromptu parties. I heard some strains of Blind Guardian. I was a little surprised to see that many were not wearing concert t-shirts, and that other than the occasional Slayer or Testament shirt, the bulk of the crowd was wearing Maiden shirts or plain "street" clothes.

I realized the first surprise of the night as I entered the gates—the relatively newly-built Cricket Pavilion is OUTDOOR. Although the stage and part of the seats are covered, there are no sides to the building. With an outside temperature of 104 degrees, even as evening approached, I settled in for what I knew would be a sweat-fest. I decided to get a cool refreshing beverage and sit under the "misters" that were interspersed everywhere and just take in the crowd before moving to my assigned seat.

Ah, the joys of going to a big show solo as a female. Of course, my entire row was composed entirely of men, who, of course, were all drunk and/or high. They couldn't believe that I was at the show alone. They couldn't believe that I had traveled so far to get to the show. They couldn't believe that I wrote for a heavy-metal webzine (see Mike? I wasn't lying). Although I was offered drinks (and weed) more times than I think I ever have been in one night, I wasn't really in the mood and ended up sneaking down to an empty seat closer to the stage next to a couple who had flown up from Mexico City. The woman was wearing a golf outfit, complete with color-coordinated hat, and was having her husband describe everything while she looked through binoculars. Kudos to her for sharing her husband's interests!

Right on time, Lemmy took the stage. Surprisingly, the arena was still very empty. Although Motorhead did a bang up job with their usual strong performance (Lemmy's scratchy voice is still strong), with half the crowd still missing it all seemed a little lackluster. The set list was almost like a "best of", with high points being "Overkill", "Ace of Spades" and "Motorhead." Lemmy played several songs in honor of some mega-large dude named, I think, "Triple H" (which Lemmy's accent it sounded like Triple "Hache"). I think he was a wrestler. And some guy named Chris Jericho. Both were front and center in the audience, and were so large that you could see them from very far away. Most people only seemed to be paying half-attention, and immediately after the set finished people started chanting for Maiden.

Not quite yet, folks. First we got to a have a dose of that little leprechaun frontman, Ronnie J himself. More and more folks were gradually filtering in, but I noticed that many were staying in the bar area near the misters—evidently trying to stay cool before the headliner. Sacrilege, perhaps, but I was chatting with my neighbors and can't really say much about Dio other than that he was wearing the same exact outfit as the last time I saw him on tour.

As the lights lowered for Maiden, the arena was finally packed. All of the merchandise for this Give 'em Ed 'Til They're Dead Tour was focused around the many eras of Eddie, and the stage had various incarnations of him all around. From the first notes of "Number of the Beast", this was the Maiden we've all loved. Bruce started out completely on fire, running from side to side of the stage and jumping over sound equipment. Dave kept his little smile on his face and did his little trademark "Mr. Happy Shuffle." Gers acted like a crazed monkey man, posing so much that I started to wonder if he was able to play his guitar normally, and not in the pseudo-splits with his guitar above his head. Nicko was spot-on, as were Steve and Adrian. All in all, watching all six pose on stage you couldn't help but think about the star quality of the band.

Perhaps because of the heat, however, I thought that Bruce wasn't quite as good as usual. He seemed to encourage a lot of crowd singing to give himself a break, and this wasn't the crowd to give that lead to. Although people were definitely fans, many seemed there to stand back and watch—I didn't see nearly the level of crazed-singing along as I have on previous tours except in the very first rows. Still, Brucey had his excellent signature rants, including one against e(M)pTV and the shallow nature of some pop, and another in which he encouraged fans to download Iron Maiden music off the net, because he isn't worried—"true fans will always buy our albums."

The set list was a fine mix of classic and newer stuff: Number of the Beast, The Trooper (with Bruce waiving the Union Jack), Die With Your Boots On, Revelations, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Wicker Man, Clansman, Clairvoyant, Fear of the Dark, Iron Maiden and encores of Two Minutes to Midnight and Run to the Hills. In addition, they played "Wildest Dreams" off of the soon-to-be-released new album. I can't say that I found it an instantly catchy tune, but I also didn't have the familiarity with it that I did with the rest of the set.

Fittingly, as I started leaving during the first encore to beat the rush and listen from the bar area, I saw the electric flash of lightning across the desert sky. I didn't hear any attendant thunder (my ears were probably close to non-functioning at that point), and there was no rain, but the visual effect of the jagged strikes across the backdrop of a midnight sky was the perfect visual to accompany the audio—one of the better light shows I've seen at a concert, definitely! A fitting close to a tremendous and fulfilling day and night.