Now, the last time I saw Iron Maiden I left before the end, such was the paucity of material I knew, and such was my horror at the realization that ‘my era’ Maiden ended well before the halfway point in their career. Over the years that followed I thought to myself, every time I listened to Powerslave or Killers or whatever, ‘I would definitely go and see Maiden again if I could be guaranteed only to hear the old stuff’. Lo and behold, a decade later, they come up with ‘Somewhere Back On Tour’ where they promised only material from the 1980s. Fucking get in! Not sure if I would be prepared to fly to Oz for it, but bugger me, they’ve only gone and announced an NZ leg, including a date in Christfuckingchurch!?! The Oz shows sold out in minutes, so just to be on the safe side, I joined the Maiden fan club to get preferential ticket pre-purchase privileges or some such bollocks. This turned out to be a bit of a waste though, because the promoters seriously underestimated a) the credit crunch and b) Kiwi resistance to paying 140 bucks for a ticket, and consequently a week before the gig it was switched from the 30,000 Jade Stadium to the 10,000 Westpac Arena. No matter though, I think most people would much rather see them in the relative intimacy of an arena than a windy stadium anyway. Add to that the torrential rain and flooding in the 48hrs preceding gig day, and the indoor option looked like a winner.
First though, getting to Christchurch. This was a proper road trip, 4 blokes, a box full of metal CDs and a chilly bin full of beer. Pissed by Oamaru, out of beer by Timaru, had to stop and buy a carry out crate from a pub. Maccy Ds for dinner in Christchurch and by the time we got to the Westpac Arena, via Christchurch Airport for a glimpse of the Iron Maiden plane (how rock and roll is that, kids?!), we were steaming and well up for some NWOBHM. Chugged another couple of beers inside while the warm up act was on – who the blinking flip thought Lauren Harris would be a worthy support for Iron Maiden? Apart from her dad Steve, that is. I’ve seen some cracking acts supporting Maiden – Slayer, Anthrax etc, so this was a bit of a let down to say the least. Anyway, she cleared off at last, and the (not quite full) arena was buzzing in anticipation of some good old fashioned ‘eavy metal.
The lights went down, the customary ‘Doctor Love’ by UFO came over the PA, and we were all set. Aeroplane engines, machine gun fire, air raid sirens, oh holy mother of God, they’re going to open with ‘Aces High’, my first and most often (for I have chopped and changed over the last 20 years) favourite Maiden track. As on the intro to ‘Live After Death’, Churchill’s ‘Fight them on the beaches…’ speech boomed over the PA and the crowd went proper Radio Rental. Adrian Smith appeared in the spotlight chugging out the opening riff, then another spotlight on Dave Murray as they brought the intro to a crescendo, then booom! Pyro, lights, drums, bass and there was Bruce Dickinson tearing across the stage like a madman half his age. A third his age even. This is what it’s all about! Senfuckingsational. Murray and Smith were electric, if you’ll pardon the pun – there is no finer sound in rock than twin lead guitars in screaming combat. Steve Harris is a true legend, I even forgave him for serving up his daughter as support, and of course Nicko is always value for money, bashing away there at the back. Although I think Jannick Gers is surplus to requirements (no band needs 3 lead guitars, ffs), he didn’t get in the way too much, and there wasn’t any real evidence of ‘too much guitar’. I wasn’t sure how they went about sharing out the solos – after all, the vast majority were Murray/Smith and only one song (‘Holy Smoke’) was from the Gers era. It worked though, whatever they did.
As Maiden stage sets go, it was pretty lame, not much more than a lot of backdrops and some ramps for them to run up and down, but who gives a shit when they sound as good as that? The set list was pretty much ‘Live After Death’, with one each from ‘Somewhere In Time’, ‘Seventh Son…’ and ‘No Prayer…’ to fill in the gaps up to 1990. Every album from the 1980s was represented, including a very welcome four from Powerslave, the high point being ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’, one I’d never seen them do before. Even the ridiculous feathery face mask Bruce was wearing for Powerslave couldn’t detract from the massiveness of the evening. ‘The Trooper’, ’Wrathchild’, ‘The Prisoner’, ‘Children Of The Damned’, they were all there – it was just greatest hits heaven, of course finishing up with ‘Iron Maiden’ and ‘Sanctuary’. The best thing though was the knowledge that at no point throughout the night would I hear Brucie utter the words ‘and now we’d like to do something from the new album’. There are loads of 80s bands out there doing the revival/nostalgia thing, cos it’s seriously big bucks, but I defy any of them to do it anywhere near as well as Maiden. The best of British, and then some. The very tiring 4hr homeward drive aside, it was a truly legendary night.