Hard to believe that, for whatever reason, this writer has never seen Iron Maiden live. Iron Maiden has not been back to Pittsburgh since 2010 and since I have been going to shows in 1984 at the ripe age of 14, be it money or horrible timing I have not been so privileged. So, when my wife saw they were coming to DC, a woman (my same age) who witnessed them at the age of 9, she simply said, “road trip”. And how could we not? We both have loved Ghost since their inception and the promise of this killer combo was completely worth a four-hour drive and a hotel stay.
If you have read Pittsburgh Music Magazine at any length, you know that GHOST is one of my favorite bands, maybe to the point of obsession. I first learned of the band in a metal magazine touting their unique music and the look captured me immediately. Add to that praise from Dave Grohl, Phil Anselmo, and a slew of others who saw them in Europe and to say the least I was intrigued. On the Opus Eponymous touring schedule, I was lucky enough to witness and photo them opening for Opeth and Mastodon in 2012 and remember being completely thrilled with their stage show and music. I’ve made it a point to see them every tour since.
Ghost is currently going through some legal battles, more specifically their frontman, Tobias Forge (Papa Emeritus) and former bandmates regarding money and song credits. This certainly has not stopped the juggernaut that Ghost is and I’m sure all the lawyers will get wealthy and the musicians screwed on both ends, whatever the case may be. But even though the lawsuit has taken away a slight bit of mystique to the band, it is definitely Tobias’ genius that has put this band on top. Talking with Pittsburgh adopted son, Doug Bradley (you probably know him as the actor who played Pinhead in the Hellraiser series), who is close friends with Tobias, it has solidified my opinion of how calculating and intelligent our beloved Papa is.
As usual, Ghost started with the song from Stanley Kubrick‘s Eyes Wide Shut “Masked Ball” by Jocelyn Pook, without a doubt the spookiest song I’ve ever heard. From there they went into their newest material, “Square Hammer” and “From The Pinnacle To The Pit“, both amazing songs in their own right. It was strange seeing Ghost in the daylight and to be honest, it took away from the performance slightly. But when Iron Maiden asks you to go on tour, you go, and you perform in front of 17,000 plus every night and convert people one by one. And that they did. While there were plenty of the faithful in attendance like myself, it was fun to talk to the uninitiated who had never seen the spectacle that is Ghost and immediately fall in love.
It’s not just the imagery inherited from KISS and the Catholic “blasphemy” and horror movie props that make the band what is has become. First and foremost, it is great music, music that is sometimes a dichotomy with their presence. One would assume it to be the blackest of metal and not the melodic, operatic, and lyrically intense with historical and cultural references aplenty that it is. Tunes like “Ritual” and “Cirice” and “Year Zero” are just monumental and so much deeper than the cursory glance. Papa talked a bit in his typical “Transylvanian” accent and kept the crowd piqued by his odd encouragement and enigmatic presence. His band mates were highly entertaining as usual and if there were major changes in personnel, well it has been seamless. The musicianship is impeccable and timing dead on, if you will excuse the pun.
I’ve been attacked by the religious right before about Ghost and I will simply say, you don’t get the joke. And if you don’t get the joke, just don’t laugh with the rest of us, and we will smile knowingly at all you are missing.
Does one expect guys in their sixties to perform with as much energy as Iron Maiden? Touring the US on their “Book of Souls” Tour, Maiden is still relentless. They have not resigned to greatest hits tours, although some may prefer that, and arguably made their best album in years. Thus, hearing songs from Book of Souls was entertaining and well worth the price of admission. But don’t think that is all Maiden played, they have not lasted this long without knowing their audience.
Being the legends that they are and this being the first night of the US Tour, there were fans from all over packing Jiffy Lube Live. There was not one disappointing moment either. Opening with “If Eternity Should Fail”, the band was surrounded by an Aztec theme that changed backdrops frequently and kept the incarnations of ‘Eddie’ coming fast and furious. Bruce was, as always, running and flying all over the stage while keeping a perfect voice. That is no small feat as audiences have seen Roth, Neil, and even Daltry drop in performance range. Add to that the man beat throat cancer and it’s even more impressive. His antics were also a plus, not taking himself seriously at all, appearing in a monkey hat/mask complete with simian movements at one point and later singing in a Lucha Libre mask. Being the heart and soul of the popular Maiden sound, it was awe inspiring to see Bruce at his best.
But that is not to say the three guitarists in the band did not put on some pyrotechnics of their own. Dave Murray is just disgustingly good, ripping the fretboard down with ease. Janick Gers antics onstage are so fun to watch, transporting this writer back to the eighties, as he twirled his guitar around and pranced over the stage. While Adrian Smith may be the most stoic of the three, he certainly did not disappoint with his amazing ax work. All three primarily stuck to using Fenders, but Murray used a Gibson SG for a few tunes, and Smith a Jackson Destroyer toward the end.
Iron Maiden, of course, played some classics including The Trooper, Powerslave, The Number of the Beast, and Wasted Years. There is nothing like the energy of hearing these songs around a bunch of die-hard fans, and the excitement was palpable. Bruce waving the Union Jack during The Trooper, Eddie appearing as a South American Savage, massive blowups of Eddie and then Baphomet for Number of the Beast, and pyro galore was like eating a tray of uncooked cookies…heavenly. Maybe the two bands that played DC were forged in hell but they brought enough happiness to 17,000 people to atone for any sins. Regardless, it was a night that will be unforgettable.
All Iron Maiden photos: John McMurtrie © 2017
All GHOST photos AWeldingphoto © 2017