Iron Maiden - Flight 666
2009 Universal Music
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Indulge me, readers, if you will, another Van Horn personal anecdote leading into this review of Iron Maiden's stellar Flight 666 DVD.
I was blessed to have caught the concert you will bear witness to on Flight 666 a little more than a week after being put on the curb by a former employer. As good as life can get during a time of duress when I was in the fearsome position of scrambling to find work with a 6-month-old infant placed in our care only four days prior to being laid off, I got the call from an attorney friend who had an extra ticket to this Maiden extravaganza. The band notes their dubbed Somewhere Back in Time Tour was for their fans young and old, particularly the younger sect who never got a chance to see Maiden's famed onstage theatrics back in the day. Thus I went on my friend's graciousness, this time as a fan instead of in the photo pit during Maiden's 2006 A Matter of Life and Death tour.
Iron Maiden presented in 2008 one of the most bombastic and eye-pleasing shows I've ever been privileged to attend--and with a gleefully nostalgic kickback to the eighties, a volatile spectacle which made them the hottest heavy metal ticket of the decade. As I'd come to be a fan in 1982 with the introduction to Killers and subsequently Number of the Beast, I can honestly say I (along with more than a million other fans) have now seen Maiden in their fullest presentive capacity via the Somewhere Back in Time Tour from last year. It was not only a therapeutic release to a trying moment in my life, it was a bucket list item crossed off as I'd missed the famous World Slavery Tour of 1985 captured gloriously on Maiden's epochal Live After Death video.
Flight 666 is a novel approach for a band making its bread and butter off of live releases as much as they do with their studio albums. Instead of merely running cameras in a handful of venues to document this landmark event in Maiden's prolific career, Flight 666 puts the cameras on board a Boeing 757 dubbed "Ed Force One" (complete with an Iron Eddie bobblehead on the dash of the cockpit and a vintage mummified Eddie painting on the tail) and takes their fans on a rather incredible journey of the course of two DVDs including the entire show filmed in 16 different venues.
Hitting 23 dates in 45 days over a transcontinental span of 50,000-plus miles, the Somewhere Back in Time Tour was not only a healthy career injection for Iron Maiden, it gave them opportunities to play countries they hadn't seen in decades or even not at all. Flinging the viewer at a rapid pace from India to Australia to Japan to Los Angeles to all over South America then New Jersey and Toronto, Flight 666 zips along even at a heavy two hours on breathless wings piloted by the voice of Iron Maiden himself, Bruce Dickinson.
The son of Royal Air Force pilots, Dickinson not only submits himself to the rigors of ripping his esophagus out for 23 gigs (merely the tour's first leg captured in this film) plus leaping all about the stage as if still in his mid-twenties, dashing backstage for wardrobe maneuvers and fielding press in various cities, he flies Ed Force One throughout the tour. Encasing the entire band and road crew plus Iron Maiden's cumbersome stage gear designed to replicate their halcyon Egyptian panorama from Powerslave, the fact Dickinson has the wherewithal to pilot his charges with only a few breaks to catch his wind is remarkable. At times he pals around with the gang and pre-autographs glossy photos, but as guitarist Dave Murray notes in Flight 666, Bruce's unyielding energy becomes infectious to the rest of the group, which is inhumanly dialed-in onstage.
Not that the greatest heavy metal band the world has ever seen has been anything less than professional even when Dickinson departed for a few years, but there is a renewed passion to the vintage catalog Iron Maiden presents on the Somewhere Back in Time Tour. Adrian Smith, always known for his calculated precision (and verified by his bandmates in the interview sequences of Flight 666) whips out blinding arpeggios and mega scale blitzes, while the fingers of Murray and sovereign bassist Steve Harris are hard to keep full eye upon even when cameras zoom in on their frets. How Nicko McBrain continues to play drums barefooted after so long in the game is beyond comprehension, while Janick Gers reliably fields rhythm and random solos. As the other members of Maiden joke about his duality to be personable and standoffish, there's no doubt Janick Gers keeps the group honest even when at their most serious. You can see him strut and bounce over towards stage right to cut up his counterparts while Dickinson zooms from all ends of the herculean stage, bearing the Union Jack and Royal Palace guard coat during "The Trooper" or his erotic avarian mask for "Powerslave." Amazing how much fun these guys are still having at their ages...
The biggest asset to Flight 666 is enjoying the rare glimpse into how Iron Maiden keeps themselves going on the road, particularly in a high-stakes endeavor set at a mad dog pace while subjecting themselves to differing climates. The deeper they go into South America, the hotter the temperature, while in the Andes mountains, the strained air quality presents an altogether different level of endurance. As South America is one of the biggest hotbeds for metal on the entire planet, you get why Iron Maiden concentrated so heavily from Mexico to Argentina, but even they note in Flight 666 the gigs beforehand were the honeymoon shows of the tour, so to speak.
The fact so many of their South American fans are shown chasing the band's buses and pounding on the windows of their hotels with chants of "Ole, ole, ole, ole...Maiden...Maiden..." are bare facets to the locals' overall fascination. As a region still looked upon by neighboring continents as third world, Flight 666 casts an unintentionally accusatory finger at the region's impoverishments--and in some areas, military oppression. These are fans who camp out for days along the roadsides with barely any food and face a huge risk of arrest lurking over their shoulders, all just to have a shot at seeing their idols perform. Certainly different than the freedom of choice-oriented capitalist countries which tend to devalue artists because of the amount of choices available to them.
Flight 666 is filmed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, the Canadian metalheads who must be having the times of their lives in following up their previous genre films Metal: A Headbanger's Journey and Global Metal. How can you not envy these guys for having the opportunity of a lifetime following Iron Maiden in front of the stage, behind the massive backdrops, on the tennis courts and golf courses, as well recording funny post-show conversations which usually feature Nicko McBrain gnawing on pizza? Ditto for having the opportunity to point the camera at Kerry King, Scott Ian, Ronnie James Dio, Tom Morello and Lars Ulrich backstage at Maiden's gig at The Forum in Los Angeles, or Doro Pesch and Eddie Trunk at the New Jersey concert.
As Maiden brilliantly pulls off their epic masterpiece "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" onstage and the Somewhere in Time cyborg Eddie lurches out onstage during "Iron Maiden," complete with on-board night vision camera capturing the band wailing and flailing beneath him, Flight 666 bears a ever-so-slight upgrade to past classics. Certainly Maiden was much fiercer back in the day when the inflatable Eddie Mummy crashed out overtop the stage (which was recreated at the gig I attended but missing from this DVD, along with the larger-than-life mechanical devil for "Number of the Beast"), but today it might be said this band is back on full thrust if not wholly surpassing themselves.
Nicko McBrain takes a hard ding in his wrist from an errant golf ball and still plays his guts out instead of calling off the show in a country filled with such devoted fans one was noted to have quit his job because it was Maiden's first (and possibly only) appearance. That's showing your audience as much respect as they give you.
Flight 666 is as spectacular and crucial to Iron Maiden's vast catalog as Live After Death, perhaps more so because this is a band that could've easily halted their power metal train--or plane, if you like--yet still yields a bounty of enthusiasm and relevance by attrition. As the film winds on the end point noting Iron Maiden has put themselves in an appreciable spot as ambassadors of hope to a vast worldwide audience, don't expect those iron turbines to grow too cold.
Friday, July 03, 2009
Iron Maiden - Flight 666