Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Iron Maiden: Flight 666

In 2008 Iron Maiden put on their Somewhere Back In Time Tour. The band invited filmmakers Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn to film not only what transpired on stage, but also behind the scenes. Flight 666 documents everything - interview segments with all the band members, a look into what it takes to stage an Iron Maiden show, and we also get a look at what the band members do on their rare days off while they’re on the road. The first leg of the Somewhere Back In Time tour took them over 45,000 miles. They played 23 concerts in 45 days. They averaged about 2,000 miles between each of the tour stops. They were able to achieve that feat by flying around the world in a customized 757, dubbed “Ed Force One.” The idea of specially modifying a plane to take the band, 70 crew and over 12 tons of equipment, had never been attempted before. It took a year to get the engineers to come up with the plans to make sure the 757 could handle the stress of flying all that equipment. It was a very ambitious undertaking. During the film they kept a running tally of the distance travelled on the tour ["Day 16 - 16,6277 miles." "Day 23 - 27,366 miles." "Day 38 - 30,646 miles."].

Bruce Dickinson, the band’s singer, is a licensed airline pilot. When he is not touring with Iron Maiden or as a solo act, he has a day job flying for the UK charter airline Astraeus. So during this tour, Bruce got to indulge himself in his other job and flew the band, crew and all their gear around the world. According to Bruce:
“The aeroplane idea started off as a crazy gleam in my eye. I went “wow, if you could get all your gear into an aeroplane, you could cut down hugely on the amount of dead space we have in touring.”” So I said, “What if you join up all the countries that accountants say ‘You can’t go there it costs too much’?” And we just join them up. And we go…’Yes we can ‘cause we’ve got our own magic carpet.’”

Usually bands get their equipment from one venue to the next by eighteen-wheel truck. Not so this tour.

Usually bands tour only when they have a new album to plug. Not so for Iron Maiden in this case. The Somewhere Back In Time Tour of 2008 was a “thank you” for their fans. When asked by XM Radio DJ Eddie Trunk if Iron Maiden were just going back and revisiting the catalog, Bruce Dickinson replied:

“No. Not at all. We’re not some old fossil dragging the bones of old songs around. What you’ll see tonight is not just a celebration of our old songs. It’s the celebration of a lot of young new fans, who have never seen us play these songs.”

“Anytime you go out and you play songs that you’ve played before, there’s always an element of people going ‘I’ve heard these songs before.’ But the purpose of this tour was really very different, because our entire audience for the last eight years has been getting steadily younger. So as a big thank you, large Christmas present wrapped up in a box with a big bow on top, here, have a classic World Slavery Tour. And that’s why I get bent out of shape any time anybody tries to play ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ and the tail they’re trying to pin on us is that this is some kind of antique revival show. And it’s not that.”

The Tour Stops: Mumbai/Perth/Melbourne [2 shows]/Sydney [2 shows]/Brisbane/Yokohama/Tokyo/Los Angeles/Guadalajara/Monterrey/Mexico City/San Jose (Costa Rica)/Bogota/Sao Paolo/Curitiba/Porto Allegre/Buenos Aires/Santiago/San Juan/East Rutherford, NJ/Toronto

The setlist itself was modeled on that played during their World Slavery Tour of 1984/85. One quick glance at the setlist below and you can see there are a few songs they didn’t play on that tour because they hadn’t been written yet. But it was a real treat to see the band play songs like ‘Ancient Mariner,’ ‘Powerslave,’ ‘Aces High,’ and ‘Revelations.’ The big treat for me is ‘Moonchild’ from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. I’ve always wanted to know what that particular song sounded like live, and with this DVD I finally got the chance. ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is another highlight. Bruce Dickinson told Eddie Trunk of all the songs he looks forward to singing, by far for him it was ‘Ancient Mariner.’ Of note, when he introduced the song, he made a point to repeat the song intro he did in 1985 in Long Beach [captured for posterity on the Live After Death album] – “This song is about what NOT to do when a bird shits on you.” That line has cracked me up for going on 25 years now…

The setlist: Churchill’s Speech/Aces High/2 Minutes to Midnight/Revelations/The Trooper/Wasted Years/The Number of the Beast/Can I Play With Madness/Rime of the Ancient Mariner/Powerslave/Heaven Can Wait/Run to the Hills/Fear of the Dark/Iron Maiden/Moonchild/The Clairvoyant/Hallowed Be Thy Name

After they left Los Angeles and headed south of the border for Latin America, there was a sense that the “holiday was over” and there was a bit of trepidation among the band that “boy, I hope we’re as good as the audiences are.” For them there is always a feeling of going somewhere where something, anything is on the edge of exploding. In Columbia they encountered riot police. In Chile, they set foot in a country that once banned them from playing because the supposed ‘Satanic’ content of their lyrics. They needn’t have worried because every time I’ve seen Iron Maiden, either on TV or on film [I’ve never seen them live], they always seem to put on a very professional, high energy show. That was the case in this documentary as well. These guys are all in their 50s, but they’re running around on stage like people half their age. One can tell they very much love doing what they do, and they don’t just go through the motions. After the first tour stop in Mumbai half the band got sick [food poisoning I think], but that didn’t stop them from putting on the same high-voltage show they always put on. Such is their dedication to giving their fans what they want and what they expect.

Iron Maiden fans are a pretty fanatical bunch, but in South America that’s taken to a higher plane. Wherever they went, be it Brazil, Argentina, or Chile, they were mobbed by fans like they were the Beatles at the height of Beatlemania. To hear guitarist Adrian Smith tell it: “The fans do get a bit much sometimes, when you’ve been traveling and people expect you to stop and sign and have photos and look all cheerful. The way I look at it, once you’re in a hotel that’s my home away from home. Outside the hotel, we’re fair game .”

Nicko McBrain: “When you’re on the road as much as we are, you don’t want to sit in your hotel room and mope or watch movies. Everyone has their activities that they do. I think it keeps you sane.” What do the guys do on their rare days off? Nicko McBrain and Dave Murray play golf. Adrian Smith plays tennis, goes fishing, and goes diving. Steve Harris is always up for a game of football. Janick Gers likes to hit any Irish pub he can find. There’s footage of some of the band visiting the Mexican pyramids at Teotichuacán. Since Bruce is doing double duty as both pilot and singer, there isn’t any footage of him doing anything else. Between the two activities there probably wasn’t enough time for him to do anything else except sleep and get fresh for the gigs.

As for the concert footage, there are sixteen songs in all, each filmed in a different city on the tour. Now if one wants to skip all the documentary stuff, there is a bonus disc that shows the whole live set uninterrupted. Even though the songs are each filmed in different cities, the set flows together as if it was one concert.

All things considered, this is a well-done documentary. If you’re an Iron Maiden fan like me, you owe it to yourself to get yourself a copy. Up the Irons!