[24 October 2002]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Earlier this year, I wrote a review of Iron Maiden’s CD release of Rock in Rio, their January, 2001 performance which was recorded for both a live album and a special DVD release. It turned out to be a pretty good live album, but when writing it, I wondered whether fans of the band would be better off to wait for the DVD to come out. Well, after a couple of delays for the band’s American fans, the wait is finally over, and does this DVD ever deliver, but my hearty recommendation comes with a serious caveat emptor.
Originally broadcast live via satellite from the huge Rock in Rio music festival over a year and a half ago, in front of a quarter of a million insane, rabid fans, bassist (and the band’s founder and leader) Steve Harris took that footage, as well as tons more raw footage of the show taped by a separate outfit (totaling 60 hours) to edit the thing, with the intent of creating the definitive live Iron Maiden document, and he has succeeded beyond our wildest expectations with this double-disc set. I have never seen a concert DVD that looks as good and sounds as good as this, plain and simple.
The two-hour concert showcases Iron Maiden at the end of their tour in support of their Brave New World album, and they’re in peak form, mixing a healthy dose of new material with tried-and-true classics. “Brave New World” segues to “Wrathchild”, “The Trooper” leads into “Dream of Mirrors”, the new songs fitting easily with the classics, and the older stuff played with surprising vitality. Drummer extraordinaire Nicko McBrain, virtuoso bassist Harris, and the guitar triumvirate of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers are on top of their game, as is singer Bruce Dickinson, whose voice is in great form, as he runs, jumps, and even swings around the stage, imploring the crowd with his trademark, “Scream for me!” The fact that these fortysomething guys sound as good as they ever have may surprise some people.
The picture quality on the concert portion of the DVD is nothing short of stunning. We’ve been wowed enough by the picture quality of DVD’s for some time now that it’s become the norm, but when you see the crisp, vivid images during the opening verse of “The Wicker Man”, you’ll be taken aback. Images are very clearly defined, and the colors are deep and vivid, making for a very lush picture. Harris took it upon himself to edit the footage himself, and at times he comes close to going overboard with the jumpcuts, but it’s not at all unsettling, and is in keeping with the band’s high energy show.
The main bone of contention among Iron Maiden’s more obsessive fans is the sound on the DVD. First off, both the Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound and the DTS sound are spectacular. Produced by Kevin Shirley (who was at the helm for the band’s Brave New World album, the sound has a clarity that the CD release (which was produced by Harris) sorely lacked, allowing you to hear all six members of the band. The surround sound is especially useful to hear all three guitarists, especially on a song like like “The Trooper”, whose triple guitar harmonies and dual guitar solos are a thrill to hear.
But for those who don’t own a surround sound system, you may have a problem with the audio track, depending on how picky you are. In a move that boggles the mind, no simple, two-channel stereo version of the audio is provided on the DVD, and as a result, when you play it through a simple, two-speaker stereo, guitar parts are harder to hear, and even more annoyingly, Bruce Dickinson’s vocals are buried deep in the mix, making them barely audible. It’s not a huge problem for diehard fans who know all the songs by heart, but folks unfamiliar with the band will find this aggravating (lyric subtitles would also have been nice to see). I’ve listened to the DVD through several TV’s and sound systems, and I’ve found out that the problem can be alleviated a fair bit by using a television that has a “simulated surround” feature in its audio settings.
Disc Two turns out to be a cool little treasure trove for fans. There are lengthy interviews with all six members, casual conversations with the guys in different settings: Adrian Smith fishing, Nicko McBrain and Dave Murray golfing, Janick Gers out on the Rio de Janeiro beach at night, Steve Harris at a soccer cup final, and the inimitable Dickinson fencing and trying a flight simulator. There’s also a cool little short called “A Day in the Life”, quickly chronicling the events before and after the huge show in Rio, and a great photo gallery, featuring commentary by longtime band photographer Ross Halfin, who provides some interesting, and often amusing, insight into the band. Scattered throughout the disc are many little hidden clips, consisting primarily of funny little snippets with the guys goofing around. It’s a great supplementary disc for fans, and totaling 50 minutes, it never has a dull moment.
Despite its audio drawbacks and some rather flimsy packaging (the Canadian version of the DVD is much sturdier), Rock in Rio sets a new standard for concert DVDs, and while it’s a much-deserved gift to fans of Iron Maiden who have followed the band for going on 20 years, it’s also proof that this band still has the ability to deliver an intense, tight performance. Up the Irons, indeed.