Every seat and the standing area is filled well before the band take to the stage, with the audience comprising of a wide range of ages. A Maiden gig these days can be considered a bona fide ‘family outing’. A far cry from the early days of gigs in the pubs of East London, but an indication of how the fan base has grown up with them and introduced new generations to the Maiden phenomenon.
The concept for the ‘Future Past’ tour is centred around two albums, made 35 years apart: 1986’s ‘Somewhere in Time’ and the most recent release ‘Senjutsu’ from 2021. Adding to the general excitement around this tour is the fact that a number of tracks from ‘Somewhere in Time’ have not been played live for quite a while, and indeed one of them never before… more on that later.
In keeping with tradition, the playing of UFOs ‘Doctor Doctor’ over the PA signals that things are about to get underway, accompanied by the first obligatory crowd sing-along of the evening (bear in mind that the show hasn’t even started yet!). That’s followed by the theme from the film ‘Blade Runner’, around which the artwork for the ‘Somewhere in Time’ album was loosely themed, accompanied by (deliberately) very 1980s Miami Vice-like green and purple neon lights.
Crowd anticipation rises to boiling point as the guitar-synth laden intro to the first track ‘Caught somewhere in Time’ kicks in via the PA, with the near delirious crowd singing along to the signature guitar hooks, and we know we are seconds away from kicking off in earnest.
Maiden enter the stage riffing furiously from the off. The triple lead guitar attack of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers underpinned as ever by the galloping bass of band founder and visionary Steve Harris locked into Nicko McBrain on drums. The vocals from inimitable frontman Bruce Dickinson cut through in his trademark operatic vocal style – it is not without good reason that Dickinson has the nickname the ‘air raid siren’!
As set opener, ‘Caught Somewhere In Time’ is delivered impeccably – getting things going at a high tempo, whipping the crowd into a frenzy and with the benefit (for the picky amongst us) of Smith and Murray sticking closely to their legendary guitar solos laid down 37 years previously.
The band go straight in to the second track, Stranger in A Strange Land, also off the Somewhere in Time album. Steve Harris’ simple but effective bass intro leads into a classic 80s metal style guitar riff in this Adrian Smith penned number. The interlude provides a brief change in pace and iconic moment that is the absolutely classic Smith guitar solo. Smith is often referred to as the ‘David Gilmour of heavy metal’, and this is a prime example as to why.
During this song we are treated to the first appearance of Eddie, the instantly recognisable skeletal Maiden ‘mascot’ who changes identity to fit the theme of each album or even track. Here he marauds about the stage looking like a cross between Skeletor, Clint Eastwood and the Terminator.
Between tracks Maiden fans are used to being treated to the usual Dickinson observations on the state of the world and life in general. Although he has adapted tonight’s first monologue to acknowledge they were unusually late on stage owing to one of the band member’s taxis being held up. Not so much ‘Caught Somewhere in Time’ as ‘Caught somewhere in traffic in the Blackwall Tunnel’. It sounded funnier the way he told it.
Next up is the first track tonight from the latest album ‘Senjutsu’ which already has the feel of being a classic Maiden live number. ‘The Writing On The Wall’ is an epic based around the story of Balthazar’s Feast. This has a different feel to other Maiden tracks with almost a ‘country’ twang to the main riff, particularly evident during the acoustic intro. This is yet another track with an epic Adrian Smith solo. The crowd is lapping it up, it has been a VERY strong start.
‘Days of Future Past’ and ‘The Time Machine’ are up next, and this is a good time to mention the ever-changing curtain backdrops and imagery which accompany each song. The underlying theme of the tour is the ‘blending’ between ‘Somewhere in Time’ and ‘Senjutsu’, which is in clear evidence during this track. The dates shown as per the backdrop illustration (itself based on the ‘Back to the Future’ time travel control console in the DeLorean) signify the formation of the band (1975), release of ‘Senjutsu’ (2021) and ‘Somewhere in Time’ (1986).
‘The Prisoner’ from the ‘Number of the Beast’ album follows with the usual pumping up of the crowd by Dickinson during the intro riff and instrumental section. Harris and Smith provide backing vocals to Dickinson on this one, but they needn’t have bothered as the whole of the O2 ably demonstrates that they can perform that function.
‘Death of the Celts’ is a deep cut from Senjutsu and follows what has ‘recently’ (OK – past 30 years!) become a bit of a Maiden formula of slow / acoustic melodic opening before letting rip with multiple riffs – including here what could be considered a ‘celtic influenced’ (some might say ‘Spinal Tap’ influenced) melody. Humorously Dickinson notes that given the turn out at a recent Dublin gig, the ‘Death of the Celts’ might have been a bit overstated!
The shorter and more poppy ‘Can I play With Madness’ lifts the mood and gets the crowd jumping again. This is then built upon by ‘Heaven Can Wait’ which is one of a number of Maiden tracks that use the sing-along ‘Woah-oh-oh’ formula, and of course the crowd willingly obliges. Dickinson engages in an onstage battle with Eddie (this time in Cyborg form) shooting flares at each other no doubt to symbolise Eddie coming to claim Dickinson’s soul, but Dickinson not being ready to leave this mortal coil and fighting back (a la ‘Heaven Can Wait’). Dickinson wins of course and Eddie limps backstage for another costume change.
The eagerly awaited live debut of ‘Alexander the Great’ on this tour has the crowd mesmerised. It’s been long demanded by Maiden fans to have this track played live, so the extra pressure to deliver the intricate (but well known) lines faultlessly and do the song justice must have weighed heavily even on the experienced shoulders of the Maiden guys. However, they nailed it perfectly, seamlessly incorporating the various time changes, solos, and we even had Bruce bashing a huge gong behind the drum kit in time. A definite standout moment so far in a standout show.
Conversely to ‘Alexander’, ‘Fear of the Dark’ which is up next has been a live staple since the early 90s with the crowd singing along to both the guitar lines and lyrics throughout, with Bruce as usual in fully expressive story-teller mode.
The self-titled track ‘Iron Maiden’ from the very first album closes the set with its signature waspy harmony lead lines sounding as fresh as ever. Cue another appearance of ‘Eddie’ this time in the form of a demonic Samurai (the imagery for the Senjutsu album). Somehow Janick Gers keeps on playing as he gets his throat slit by the 12-foot monster wielding a Katana. However, given how furiously Gers throws his guitar around on stage all night it’s a close-run thing as to who would come off worse in a battle between those two.
For the encore the general time travel and dystopian theme continues with ‘Hell on Earth’ painting a bleak picture of where mankind is going to end up. Rather incongruously Bruce has the whole of the O2 joyously waving their arms from side to side during the intro and outro to this one. The extreme pyrotechnics throughout lead me to wonder whether health and safety have insisted on a large bucket of sand being handy just in case.
Two more absolute classics close the show in the form of ‘The Trooper’ and ‘Wasted Years’ which needless to say the crowd know inside out and lap up enthusiastically. Then suddenly it’s all over, bar the band taking a quick ‘selfie’ onstage with the crowd in the background, and we’re all off shuffling outside to face our own short term dystopian future of trying to squeeze onto the Jubilee Line.
Overall the show was a good balance of classics and new tracks, delivered with the energy, enthusiasm, professionalism and showmanship that Maiden fans have come to expect. Kudos to Maiden for always having had the confidence to put plenty of new material in their live shows, and these new songs stood up well alongside the classics.
Barring some of the dystopian forecasts coming true, then based on this evidence there remains a lot left in the Maiden machine and hopefully we’ll get to do all this again several times over before Eddie finally hangs up his sword / ray gun / axe etc.