For two nights at the beginning of July, Iron Maiden took a sweltering Paris and literally throttled it into submission. The crowd at the Bercy rose to the challenge and the hardest working heavy metal band you will ever see put on a show with all the non-stop, energy-sapping theatre and drama you could ever wish for.
Never a band for sitting back and taking their collective foot off the gas, Maiden tapped into the tangible excitement of the crowd and truly delivered. If they rocked Rio they certainly did the same to Paris with a set list that included most of the all time highlights from the Somewhere Back In Time album. Supported by a strangely misfiring Avenged Sevenfold and Maiden main man Steve Harris’s daughter Lauren, who showed that some of the family magic has rubbed off, Maiden arrived on stage. I have to say I felt some sympathy for the US’s Avenged Sevenfold who tried in vain to ride the tide of Maiden hysteria with an energetic set that included the powerful "A Little Piece of Heaven" but by that stage the crowd was now like a pack of guard dogs that only Maiden could satisfy.
Suddenly, with the deafening sound of a passing Spitfire and Churchill’s "fight them on the beaches" speech, you are launched on a ride akin to Disney’s Space Mountain except this one lasts nearly two breathless hours. In a sea of pyrotechnics and explosions, Bruce Dickinson, a man driven with so much energy that you wither with exhaustion just watching him, takes us into "Aces High" from the Powerslave album. In typical but timeless Maidenesque style the stage is set straight from the cover of that album with an Egyptian tomb complete with mummies and hieroglyphs and sinister flame-breathing figures, but it is the movement of the band that catches the eye and the sheer pace and volume that shreds the nerves.
"Two Minutes To Midnight" and "Revelations" follow before Bruce changes into his red tunic, waving a huge, battled-scarred Union Jack flag for "The Trooper". The backdrops are, as ever, huge in scope, constantly changing, an unforgettable part of the show that no matter how many times you have seen them before still makes you realise you have had a manic grin fixed on your face for a period of time that would be worrying in any other environment. This is heavy metal at its very peak and Maiden explore every conceivable comic book angle of the sinister and macabre whilst literally galloping through the set list at a speed that is truly unrelenting.
Bruce, not content with merely being the front man of Iron Maiden is also an airline pilot, a television presenter, and a fencing champion but, as if he needed to win anyone over in the crowd, he does so by addressing them in French. They loved him for it and responded with equal energy, enthusiasm, and that wonderful French trait, passion, helping to create an atmosphere that would be hard to rival. Maiden founder Steve Harris’s throbbing bass and Nicko McBrain’s drum-wrecking power drive the whole ride forward whilst the triple guitars of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers combine to produce some of the best riffs and breaks in the metal world.
No Maiden show would be complete without an appearance of the seventh member of the band and sure enough mascot Eddie appears in all his horrific glory in a moment of sheer comic book brilliance. It was all I could do to tear my eyes away from the stage to look around and witness for myself the pure and universal pleasure that this moment evoked in the crowd, there to see the masters of theatre themselves, Iron Maiden. The relentless pace continued through such timeless highlights as "Can I Play With Madness", "Number Of the Beast", "Run To The Hills", "Fear Of The Dark", and of course Eddie’s moment with the track "Iron Maiden". There are encores and there are encores and this crowd would have literally dismantled the place had the band not reappeared.
To a roar of delight they returned and attacked "Moonchild", "The Clairvoyant" and "Hallowed Be Thy Name" before a truly memorable night came to an all-too-soon end. Collective exhaustion and emotional meltdown was written all over the fans as they trooped away past the busiest merchandise stalls I have ever seen, with many of them wearing Maiden’s trademark t-shirts showing the star of the show, Eddie, in his various incarnations.
Jumping into my car and heading out onto the dreaded Paris Peripherique I suddenly realised that I was traveling at a far greater speed than I had when I had arrived several hours earlier. I felt drained yet thrilled. Enthused yet exhausted. Quite how the band recover in time to do it all again the next evening and then take London’s 55,000 Twickenham Stadium by storm a few short days later is beyond me. That, of course, is what makes Maiden so very different. They never fail to deliver, never fail to put on a high energy show, and are quite simply the hardest working rock band in the world. The age range in the Bercy highlighted that this band need to discover the elixir of youth because the audience will always be there and they can never get enough of all things Maiden.
I finally slowed down and reached for my car’s CD player and flicked on Fear Of The Dark. Proving once and for all that you can never grow tired of Iron Maiden and with a maniacal grin, I drove off into the night.