Iron Maiden - Melbourne Hisense Arena 23/2/11

What else can you say? Scream for me Melbourne!

Since they last returned to Australian shores in 2008 on the fabled Somewhere Back in Time tour, English metal legends Iron Maiden have released an ecstatically received documentary of said jaunt - The hugely enjoyable but not incredibly revealing Flight 666- and, in the opinion of the ears of the man writing this, their best album since 1988's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son in the shape of the largely enjoyable Final Frontier. They are, not to put too fine a point on it, right back at the top of their game, and firing on all six. So, as they take the stage for the first of two Soundwave Festival sideshows - or 'sidewaves' as someone immeasurably more talented than I has dubbed them - they should be laying waste to all that gets in their path, right?
Well, not at first, no. After Satellite 15 has called the faithful from the bar (or, perhaps more accurately, from the queue for merch...)it's apparent that all is not well up there in the bright lights. The sound in Hisense Arena is - or so the locals tell me - iffy at the best of times, and here, as Bruce and the boys manfully rend the air asunder via the good offices of the blunt aural instrument that is 2 Minutes to Midnight, tonight would appear to be no different. But it's of little or no matter to the diehards at the front - there's been too much time, effort, emotion and, let's face it at a hundred and fifty bucks a pop for a standing ticket, cold hard cash, invested in tonight by the fans to let a muffled sound spoil proceedings- as they sing, many of them in tune, and scream every time Dickinson lets out his trademark exhortation.
Indeed, by the time The Talisman arrives to weave it's Mariner-lite spell over us, the sound where MaF is standing is certainly acceptable (though we hear that others in the arena were not quite so fortunate), so we manfully get over the 'no beers in the auditorium' ruling and get down to enjoying ourselves properly. However this enjoyment is constantly harried and upset by the abomination that is Dave Murray's stonewashed, double-breasted Denim jacket. I've seen a lot of things in my life that a man shouldn't have to see, ever, but this item of clothing is close to the apogee of horror in my fervid, sweating experience. And, despite the rising temperature in the hall as we and the band get fully warmed up, he refuses to remove the fucking thing. I keep looking at fellow Metal as Fuck alumnus 'Big' Allan Sko and bellowing in his ear 'just look at it!' but he doesn't seem to share my disgust so I just get down to enjoying the monstrous brilliance that is Coming Home.
In the real world, Iron Maiden are scoffed at by 'serious' music journalists and the general music-buying public alike but - and it's a fucking great big but, six foot five in its stockinged feet and smelling heavily of English Breakfast Tea and gingernuts - the cognoscenti know that Maiden are real musicians and great songwriters, and Coming Home underlines this fact in heavy black pen strokes. It's a momentous song, and tonight it marks the start proper of Maiden's 2011 Australian Tour.
Unfortunately the nature of tonight's set list - not the greatest hits jamboree that was SBIT but an evidently seriously thought-out melange of old, new, tried and true - stops that momentum stone dead with the ridiculous, facile nonsense that is Dance of Death. A bad song from a poor album, DoD comes close tonight with it's riverdance fripperies to echoing Spinal Tap's Stonehenge - but it does present a welcome break in the programme and a chance to nip out into the foyer to whet our whistles, which we do.
When we return, The Trooper and The Wicker man provide a vicious but welcome return to sanity before Blood Brothers reveals itself to all in it's tattered, sentimental glory. The last time MaF saw Maiden perform this song was at the loathsome barn that is London's Earls Court at the Metal 2000 event on the band's 'reunion' tour; there the epic emotion of the song was swallowed up by the cavernous void of the venue's seemingly limitless rafters; tonight it rouses, it cheers and it drives us on, all of us swept along by the 'all in this together' feeling whipped up by a fantastically committed performance from the band, who now seem to be fully recovered from the show's sluggish start. When the Wild Wind Blows could have been another stumbling block for the band, but again the conviction of their delivery and the sheer juggernaut heaviness of the middle section of the song turns any pre-show doubts about it's place in the set into dust - and 'what were you worried about?' dust at that- before the night's highlight takes the stage.
That's not Eddie - though of course when he does appear, inevitably during Iron Maiden, we raise imaginary glasses high in his honour - but for the top 40 bothering mastery that is The Evil That Men Do. My eyesight isn't what it was, but I'm willing, with the aid of a good attorney, natch, to attest that the roof was just about lifted off it's hinges by this song. Utter, utter brilliance in musical form.
After that it's hard for the band to maintain the momentum, although the crowd does it's best to push Fear of the Dark into the red with the power of their participation; And when, after Eddie, the band encore with a slightly perfunctory Number of the Beast you get the feeling the band have let the prize slip... and then Hallowed Be Thy Name appears - and I'm pogoing through the instrumental section, fer christs sake-  slaps you upside the head whilst shouting 'you silly little boy' for doubting things and everything's Okay again...
Twenty four hours later your man on the spot did it all again at the Entertainmemnt Centre in Sydney, where the band - clearly better for the night's run in Melbourne - had more fire in their bellies and more fuel, or so it seemed, for the fight, with Bruce Dickinson - alternately grumpy and sarcastic in Melbourne - in particular seeming  a far happier camper on the second night. But that's a minor quibble in the context of events - Maiden are one band, broadly, who never fail to deliver what their fans want, and, despite the rumours that this is the final frontier, despite their advancing age, despite the over-inflated ticket, beer and merch prices - every man jack of us will be back should they decide to come back our way again.