St. Pete Times Forum / Tampa, Florida
April 17, 2011
There was no telling what to expect coming into Tampa Bay (from still-cold Chicago) on an early Sunday afternoon for the Maiden gig at the St. Pete Times Forum. I’d last seen them play early in August, 2010, at the Sonisphere festival in Knebworth, England, only a few months before - but, with the many dates the band had played since - throughout Asia, Australia, South America, and more, it just seemed like more than that long ago …
And, I wondered, how can they keep on keeping’ on, at that level, with so many worldwide gigs a year, and at their ages? Only the most motivated overachievers could aspire to that, or keep to that schedule, but then it’s nothing new that all the members of Iron Maiden give “overachievers” a good name.
But, I digress …
As the last U.S. show on this leg of the ongoing, marathon Final Frontier tour, it was also one of only two stateside shows this year, with the other occurring the previous night in the Miami area, in Sunrise, Florida, home of band drummer Nicko McBrain (and his new restaurant, Nicko’s Rock N Roll Ribs; see http://www.rocknrollribs.org if you are further interested).
And, with my own “spring break” fortuitously aligned, it was a great time to catch what could be the last North American show for at least a another year or more … and it also afforded yet another chance to check out the ever-intriguing variation of Maiden fans in different locales. (I always find it fascinating to observe how the different venues in diverse cities - and the vibe of the unique regional sociology - affect the intensity of Maiden performances and/or the audience feedback and timbre of any given show.)
So, though I’ve thus far seen Maiden play coast to coast - and even overseas - over the course of 30 years, here are some observations and thoughts that sprang to mind as witnessed this Floridian tour date:
First off, the “Maiden Heads” were definitely in full force around the Forum well before we arrived there more than an hour before the opening band, Black Tide, were due to hit the stage. I found that a bit stunning since Maiden have not played in Tampa in over 20 years, and yet outwardly the fan unity and devotion appeared no less evident than in, say, L.A. or Chicago, or even England.
Then again, the Maiden fan amoeba keeps swelling larger and larger everywhere, to the point that early-days sects like the Chicago Mutants now seem only like the faded, long-ago prototype. Indeed, today’s Maiden Head Army is a bonafide, jaw-dropping spectacle and social phenomenon, making reality of the lyric: “Iron Maiden's gonna get you, no matter how far” ….
Anyway, it was clear from the outset that the Maiden lifestyle/subculture is definitely alive and well and growing even amongst the palms and channels of Tampa Bay, albeit with a distinct laid-back, sun=tanned and southern twist to it. (And they were mostly wearing colorful, tropical versions of Maiden shirts - I meant to get one of those, but never did! - which led me to believe quite a few had trekked across alligator alley from the Sunrise gig the night before.)
As it turns out, this night was a gorgeous, perfectly clear night with evening temps in the 70s - a major improvement over the horrid Chicago weather I came in on - but, alas, the show was indoors at the mid-sized Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, currently in the throes of the NHL playoffs (and in fact the Lightening faced the Pittsburgh Penguins there the next day).
On a side note, on the way to the venue from the hotel, the shuttle driver had informed us of all the acts that had recently played the Forum, including Lady Gaga the previous night, but little did we know then that she, as a self-declared Maiden fan, was ostensibly working as a free roadie for the band at this very show, clearly indicating that Maiden has, for better or worse, finally achieved a level of “cool” that the likes of Gaga find alluring and useful.
At any rate, temps inside were even more tropical and steamy, despite the floor and pit seating being situated over the hockey ice. Everywhere it was mostly guys at this venue - but an even mix of all ages 15 -55. The Maiden / metal cougars were a sizeable side-dish, too, however, with me and my cousin (the latter hadn’t seen a Maiden show in 25 years) probably fitting into that latter category ourselves!
We scanned the arena when we entered about a half hour before the first opening set. It was about half full then - but would fill up almost to capacity later - and the staff and security at the venue were clearly locals who had the geniality of country-band security rather than the toughness of security at metal shows that we’re accustomed to in the North. That laid back attitude probably affected the energy of the show in a positive way later, since barely checking the ticket stubs at any time, they would later allow the most enthusiastic of the crowd to rush down into the lower levels about half way through the show.
We, however, lucked out with great seats from the outset, three rows up and immediate stage left, so no Jumbotron was necessary to catch the nuances of show this time, and no tall guys blocking my view for the whole show either. (What a change that was from the last Maiden gig I’d seen, at Knebworth in England, when the stage and Jumbotrons were so far away that the reaction of the huge audience in front of me was the main entertainment and attraction.)
We made sure to catch the opening band, Black Tide, from the get go, too, having caught them for the first time two summers ago in Chicago on a fest bill, where they were most impressive then due to their extreme youth, energy, stage-presence and quirky song-writing (in fact, in some ways reminiscent of early Maiden), and they’d clearly honed their skills even more since then, upping the ante.
Heavy, hooky songs, with distinctive stage personalities and talent, Black Tide - home grown Florida boys - have the intensity, the stage presence, the song-quality, and the whole dang package, and are definitely one of the elite young bands breaking through on the scene right now that has the “right stuff.” to take it to the next level.
Before Maiden burst forth onto the stage, though, there was cause for a little worry regarding the crowd. During the part of the pre-show buildup which includes videos and culminates with the biggest and famous anticipatory cue - Doctor, Doctor -- everyone around in front and in back of me were still sitting in their seats … Yes, sitting even throughout the UFO classic signal song! What the Hey?! Didn’t these Floridians know that you are supposed to be up and pumping already? But maybe 20 years of neglect had made them forget …
So, I turned around and jokingly spoke to all those guys within earshot: “Hey, don’t you know that you stand during Maiden shows?“ Sheepishly, a couple of them responded they knew, and said they would, but I don’t think that was altogether the case. Since we were in a section close enough to see Bruce in the face, it did cross my mind that he might be irked by seeing all the Americans in my area sitting all the way through the doggone show, eating their popcorn and the proverbial “chicken in a basket.”
But, later in the show, the crowd finally revved up - finally seemed to get the drift of the appropriate response to a Maiden show, though it could have had something to do with the amount of alcohol consumed that night. (A worker in the beer concession told me they were raided during the show by excise cops due to the amount of drunken teenagers early on, and therefore could not sell more than one beer per person for the remainder of the gig.)
Yes, it was a bit of a slow warming up as far as the crowd was concerned, but it artfully built up to a crescendo because the show was expertly paced to achieve maximum dynamics, with a balancing of the pacing of the new songs from Final Frontier with vintage songs that were representative of most the important phases of Maiden’s career (doubtless getting more and more difficult to do, with so many phases being added on).
While I did catch wind of several verbal protests after the show about this or that song not being played, those complaining about a missing favorite song here or there must become more dedicated to seeing every tour - in my opinion. (A couple of the songs I heard wails about because they ostensibly were not played, actually were played, so there you go on that too; those people must have been in the loo at the time!)
I won’t detail the exact set list on this gig, on this leg, and it will undoubtedly change for the European leg this summer anyway, but it did include approximately five songs from Final Frontier, including the Grammy winning “El Dorado” (about time for that), interlaced with songs from various parts of the band’s career like “2 Minutes to Midnight, “ “The Evil That Men Do” (powerful rendition of an always potent song), “The Wicker Man,” and “The Trooper” in the middle of the show.
The song “Dance of Death” was also performed, and definitely rivaled the rendition of it I saw during the stellar Dance of Death tour at the U.S. dates at the Universal Amphitheater in late January of 2004 (a tour that only had two NY and two LA tour dates).
At that time I was justifiably worried that Maiden would never fully tour the U.S. again, due to the stagnant audiences here, and the band’s increasing frustration with the American market at that time. (As fate would have it, things have only turned steadily upward from that point, but I still did long to see the tour de force from DOD, “Paschendale,” performed live once again this night too, so obviously I’m not any different from the other complainers!)
As the band revved up mid-set to the numbers the audience was most familiar with, the crowd responded with equally cranked up enthusiasm. Guys flooded the area all around the lower reserved seats and aisles and finally put the V8 into full throttle with mass Pogo-ing and sing-along-ing reaching warp Maidonian levels.
Both causing this, and responding to it, the band members closest to our vicinity - Dave, Adrian and Bruce - were as enthusiastic and spot-on musically and vocally as I can recall seeing them in Maiden’s entire career. (Perhaps by necessity, due to the increasing complexity of their new music, Maiden has also increased the layered backing vocals on their live shows as well, with impressive effectiveness.) In particular, it was one of the most animated and pumped performances that I’ve ever seen from Adrian Smith, and the guitars’ sound and solos from all three axeslingers was often chill-inspiring, especially in the final third of the show.
The band members may very well have been “knackered” after this gig - after all, it was the final conclusion of a long Asian and South American campaign - but, consummate professionals that they are, no one saw even a hint of waning enthusiasm onstage at the St. Pete Forum this night.
Always their own best cheerleaders, Maiden compelled the initially reserved Tampa audience out of their seats, ultimately whipping them into an appropriate concluding frenzy, and leaving them unlikely to gladly suffer such a long absence by the masters of metal once again.
The question is, whether - or how long - the band will be motivated to continue touring at the level to ever hit there again. I daresay even the band might be hard put to answer that question at this juncture …
Opening band, Black Tide: