When the history of Heavy Metal is written, Iron Maiden will not only be credited with being the first to ride the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but they will also be credited with setting a standard for live performances that will endure, and for saving the genre when it is on the decline.
I have the belief that Metal music is losing popularity, particularly in the United States. However, after seeing Fear Factory and Iron Maiden at Hammerjacks in Baltimore, that belief seems as incongruous as thinking that the world is flat. Both the bands played energetic and tight sets, and the crowd head-banged to every minute of it. Never have I seen such a energetic response from the crowd at a Metal concert in recent years.
Fear Factory opened, and put on a stunning and ferocious show. They really pumped the crowd up. Burton Bell growled through several of the songs from their latest release, Demanufacture, and remained a true vocal martyr; I think it was for a just cause. I didn't like Demanufacture a lot when I heard the CD; in particular, the triggering of the drum samples really annoyed me. Live, the triggering of the drum samples didn't sound as bad, and I thought overall the band had a live sound that resembled Metal more than it did Industrial. I thought the album was also very danceable, but live it's easier to head-bang to their music. Perhaps it is just my perception, but the music did appear more syncopated live.
They opened with the title track of their new album, and their set consisted of songs mostly from the new album. The energy was maintained throughout the 40 minute performance and it really was great to see a band giving it all they have. They were also very cool about the fact that they were opening for Iron Maiden, and urged the crowd to shout their approval for Maiden.
After Fear Factory left the thrashing crowd, the stage was cleared to reveal a small set and a huge backdrop which featured Eddie being tortured. Within a few minutes, the strains of Man on the Edge began and the crowd went crazy. At this point, I was right in front of the stage taking pictures and I wasn't paying much attention to the music, but the crowd reaction was phenomenal.
Live, Blaze Bayley sounded far better than on The X Factor, confirming my suspicions that his vocals in the album has been significantly compressed and/or that he was holding back. Also, his range when he sings live seems to be shifted lower. He did a great job as a frontman, taking the spotlight just the right amount and sharing it a lot with the others in the band. Some of his motions were pretty cheesy (the air guitar definitely has to go), and some were convincingly psychotic , fitting the theme of The X Factour well. He did a great job on the songs from the new album, especially on The Sign of the Cross and The Lord of the Flies, and an even better job on older songs like The Trooper, Wratchchild, Iron Maiden, The Number of the Beast (which got the best crowd reaction), and Hallowed be Thy Name. Bayley sounded better than Bruce Dickinson on some of songs originally sung by Dickinson, and he did a far better job on the stuff originally done by Paul Di'Anno than Dickinson. The only performance I didn't like by him was on The Evil that Men Do, where he had difficulty hitting the high notes (he just omitted those parts).
More than Bayley however, it was the antics of Janick Gers that attracted my attention. He was all over the place, throwing his guitar high up in the air (à la Blackmore) at the beginning of the performance, and finishing the show by climbing on the speaker stacks and massaging his guitar on it . His guitar work wasn't the most accurate, but he more than made up for it by his happy go-lucky attitude of playing.
Dave Murray was smiling all the time, taking his time to play his parts with extreme precision. He was very accurate, and this meshed interestingly with Gers' sloppiness.
Steve Harris , wearing a t-shirt with "Zappa" inscribed on it, ran around the stage as usual and kept the bass line steady and solid, while Murray and Gers indulged themselves. He did a smoth job switching between the two basses and the intro to Blood on the World's Hands was executed magnificiently.
While most of the band acted as frontmen at some point or another during the show, Nicko McBrain was buried behind his huge drum kit, and poked his head out only once or twice. His drumming was tight as ever, and even though one didn't get to see him much, his presence was definitely felt in the mix.
One of the things I thought was interesting about Iron Maiden is that most of them sing along with the lyrics. It gives the impression that they're really into what they're doing and that they're more than the sum of the parts. The crowd was fairly "well-behaved" and the moshing was highly restricted. Most of the people didn't seem to be familiar with (the lyrics of) the new album, but I think it made a good impression on them. It was great to see a band with Maiden's stature in a small club. The acoustics were okay. The vocals could've been a bit more prominent in the mix, but the rhythm section was well balanced.
Other songs they shredded through the night included Fear of the Dark, Two Minutes to Midnight (another crowd pleaser), The Aftermath, and The Edge of Darkness. This is a concert definitely worth checking out if you're into Metal at all: not just to see one of the pillars of the Heavy Metal foundation adapting to change, but also to see a rising band that really defines the state of Industrial-Metal music today.