Photo credit: Ace Trump
Loud. Really fucking loud.
For several hours on the night of 30 July, nary a black T-shirt or skull tattoo could be found in all of New York. That’s because every last one of them was at the sold out Garden worshipping at the altar of heavy metal royalty. Even for the atheists among the crowd, there was no doubt that the evening’s triple bill was Heaven sent, as it featured arguably the three most important influences on the metal music scene. With the exception of Sabbath, and to a lesser degree Judas Priest, no performers have embodied the metal genre, or kept it alive over the years more than Lemmy, Ronnie James or Maiden. Seeing any of them individually is a treat, but to see them all in one concert at the world’s most famous arena—it doesn’t get any better.
The night began at 7:30 p.m. sharp as Motorhead hit the stage. Known for its bludgeoning attack as well as its live consistency, the band played a solid thirty-five minute set, punctuated by Lemmy’s gravel voiced vocals and lead bass brutality. Although his reputation as the king of speed metal is well-established, his presence behind the microphone is still awe-inspiring. Standing rail straight, trademark Rickenbacker slung in front, Lemmy is the quintessential metal thug. His singing resonates with anger and his playing is simply ferocious. While he is a wonderfully decent, and extremely amusing fellow off stage, by gig time Lemmy is one mean metal motherfucker. Amazingly, more than two decades after recording the groundbreaking album Ace of Spades, Mr. Kilmeister and company continue to deliver fast and furious, a simple yet successful recipe. James Hetfield should take note, and keep practicing his sneer.
Sufficiently warmed up, the crowd was next treated to an hour’s worth of Dio. Having been around seemingly forever, Ronnie James boasts an impressive metal resume, and the pipes to back it up. Early work with Rainbow and Sabbath, coupled with a lengthy solo career, qualify him as a legitimate metal pioneer, right up alongside Ozzy. What makes Dio special is that he still performs with the youthful exuberance that keeps endearing him to legions of fans. Working the audience with a smile and a pumping fist, Dio rocked the masses with a solid set of favorites including “Stand Up and Shout”, “Dream Evil”, and his signature tune, “Rainbow in the Dark”. The years have taken nothing from Dio’s voice, as he proved capable of hitting all the high notes without wavering. The trademark howl can still break glass and elicit wild cheers from the faithful, and his spirited performance was tremendous. Dio is one of the genuine good guys of heavy metal, and seeing him enjoying himself on stage was particularly noteworthy.
Rounding out the night was the headlining performance by Iron Maiden. Taking the stage adorned with “Eddie” images, Maiden capitalized on the tone for the night by opening with “The Number of the Beast”. The giant neon 6-6-6 display blinked menacingly behind the drum riser as Bruce Dickinson rallied the crowd. Three guitars and one bass jockeyed for position at stage front, as the Garden denizens flashed “the horns” and shook the rafters. Dickinson ran and leaped and climbed like a child in a playground, fueled by the electricity of the sold out arena. Massive “Eddie” banners were unfurled at virtually every song break giving everyone the ultimate visual compliment to the band’s energized set. Old tunes were spiced with new material from Maiden’s forthcoming album, and despite a few lulls in the action, the performance was outstanding. At one point, Dickinson engaged the crowd with a bit of standard stage banter. What he said may have seemed clichéd at first, but his words resonated with truth: Maiden has never compromised its heavy metal sensibilities. The band has continued to give the finger to the music establishment, refusing to kowtow or kiss ass, remaining immensely successful in the process.
Consider for a moment that Maiden, Motorhead and Dio have amassed a combined total of over 75 years at the forefront of metal music. This in itself is a remarkable accomplishment, especially when one looks at the past quarter century and notes the biggest acts that are no longer around, irrespective of musical genre. Bands from Van Halen to Nirvana and the Clash reigned supreme for a time, but failed to approach the staying power of our head bangin’ heroes. The ultimate irony however, is that Lemmy, Ronnie James and the Maiden gang have thrived with little to no radio or video support! They each grew to prominence in the early days of MTV, survived the metal backlash of the ‘90s, and continue to release albums and sell out tours based solely upon the passion of their fans. This is a testament to their greatness as artists and the loyalty of their respective followers. What other acts past or present can claim such an enviable distinction? Check back with Megadeth and Anthrax in another five or 10 years.
So, were any profound lessons learned from the big metal trifecta on 30 July? Aside from each performance being well worth the ticket price, fans went away feeling confident that Motorhead, Dio and Iron Maiden still rule the roost as heavy metal gods. Judging by the power and volume of the evening’s festivities, these guys will be around as long as the public is still interested. That’s good news; I think we’ll keep ‘em.