Iron Maiden - London O2 Arena, 5/8/11

Your wedding day, your significant other's birthday, an Iron Maiden tour; all things in your life that you simply cannot miss

July 5th, 2008; Iron Maiden's Somewhere Back in Time tour descended upon Twickenham stadium in South West London. The 20,000-strong crowd spent a day bathed in sunshine and was treated to a truly exceptional show courtesy of Lauren Harris, Within Temptation, Avenged Sevenfold and of course, the mighty Irons. It was without exception the finest musical experience of my life.

Skip forward three years to August 5th 2011and my friends and I are reminiscing about the day whilst speeding along the River Thames, beer in hand, towards London's O2 Arena. The sun is once again shining but as tonights venue has a closed roof it will have little impact on the prceedings. Mums and dads with young sons and daughters, all resplendent in Iron Maiden t-shirts from various tours, are chatting with burly metal hulks in patched-up denim. Even the slightly confused tourists, unaware of the reasons as to why their pleasant late afternoon cruise on the Thames's river taxi service is populated primarilly by people with a zombie on their clothes, are smiling and the atmosphere is amazing.

We arrived at the O2 Arena, one of London's largest music venues, to find hordes of fellow Maidenites streaming into the over-priced bars and merchandise areas. Chants of "Maiden! Maiden! Maiden!" rang out around the enormous venue and our impromptu (if slightly drunken) version of 2 Minutes to Midnight got some impressive participation. One of our party's eight-year-old son was with us; it was his first Maiden experience and the grin on his face said it all. Our most experienced man was onto his thirteenth show and also had his ticket ready for tomorrow - the final night of the 14-month long Final Frontier world tour. Our broad spectrum of experience was mirrored across the crowd as people of every age, sexual preference, race, and hair colour under the sun headed into the arena for the main event.

With standing tickets in hand (except for the chap and his son, of course - let's not be silly) we dutifully chugged a few more beers and wandered down the front for DragonForce who were, disappointingly, the one and only support band on the night. The beauty of Twickenham was the build up and it was difficult to see how one band, especially an opinion-divider like DragonForce, could get the crowd hyped up enough for the main event.

DragonForce are no doubt exceptionally talented musicians. Herman Li and Sam Totman's duelling guitar theatrics and Dave Mackintosh's insane drums are a spectacle in themselves. However, the levels were a bit off meaning the most audible sound was double kick, the guitars weren't up nearly high enough and new vocalist Marc Hudson, whilst sounding almost exactly like his predecessor ZP Theart, was nervous to say the least, although considering this was only his second live show with DragonForce, this is understandable. There's also the sad-but-true fact that whatever way you look at it, all of DragonForce's songs sound the same. Closing with Through The Fire and the Flames (obviously) the crowd's reception was luke warm at best. There was no booing and jeering within range of our ears but I'm reliably informed that a group at the back of the room started an "Airbourne" chant in the vain hope that the previous night's support would miraculously appear on stage.

With little in the way of warming up, the crowd settled back to wait for the inevitable Satelite 15...The Final Frontier (although secretly I was hoping to hear Churchill's Speech and Aces High), and as soon as the song kicked in the crowd exploded. From our position, ten or so back from the front, the temperature immediately rocketed and a veritable onslaught of good quality metal moshing ensued. El Dorado followed suit, Bruce Dickinson typically owning the crowd with the enthusiasm and sheer energy of a chap half his age. 2 Minutes to Midnight caused absolute bedlam and Steve Harris took his position to the right of the stage (which I think is technically stage left) and sneered along with the hugely vocal crowd.

There were fears that this tour would be solely focussed on the latest album but instead, Iron Maiden took songs from days of yore and threw them into the frankly excellent mix. As The Trooper kicked in, one of our party crowd-surfed over the top only to return a few minutes later with both shoes and his mobile phone in tatters somewhere on the floor of the pit. By the time The Wicker Man was in full flow the security guards had started passing much-needed water into the crowd; the heat was unlike anything I've experience and I'm surprised there weren't more casualties. However, it only takes Fear of the Dark to slow the pace and bring a crowd together. Turning round to see 23,000 people with their hands in the air, singing along, remains a sight to behold. 

Eddie soon joined Maiden on stage for a bit of a meander. He didn't stick around for long but the crowning moment of the evening was the bloody enormous Eddie emerging ominously from behind Nicko McBrain's drum riser. Leering out into the crowd and opening and closing his mouth like a 10-foot wide animatronic mentalist, it was clear that the Irons had spent a few quid on the show this year.

With an encore of Number of the Beast, Hallowed be Thy Name and Running Free, Maiden left the stage as the crowd sang along with Monty Python's classic Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. And having seen the true masters at work, it was difficult not to. Iron Maiden are the greatest heavy metal band in the world and despite a lacklustre support act and furnace-like venue, they destroyed it. It's incredibly hard to find fault with a band who have been doing what they do for so long, and doing it so well. Dickinson's energy around the stage is formidable, the triple axe attack of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers creates some of musics most memorable riffs and the rhthym section of Steve Harris's pounding basslines with Nicko McBrain's galloping drums all combine to produce a definintive example of Heavy Metal 101.

Bruce reckons they've got one more left in them which by my reckoning, means an album tour. Then maybe a farewell tour. And perhaps a comeback tour, and another new album. We can only hope.

Up the Irons.