BLOG - HOCKEY & HEAVY METAL
SEPTEMBER 14, 2013 • 08:14 PM
THE BATTLE OF SAN BERNARDINO
It’s been a little while since I’ve had a post strictly dedicated to music, but Friday provided a platinum opportunity to do just that. I took a vacation day and attended The Battle Of San Bernardino, a 9-hour concert featuring Iron Maiden and their buddies Megadeth, Anthrax, Testament, Sabaton, Overkill and Warbringer. I can confirm that the battle was very one-sided and that heavy metal won.
I used to wish for days like this as a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, because while we got our fair share of touring bands coming through, we never got anything on this scale. An all-day, all-heavy show like this was thousands of miles away, both literally and figuratively. And even though I’m not a fan of the San Manuel Pavilion because of its distant location and terrible ingress and egress, I nonetheless have an involuntary soft spot for it because it was the site of the two US Festivals that took place when I was in junior high school. In particular, the 1983 US Festival’s “Heavy Metal Day” was easily the most jealousy-inducing live music event of that era, especially after the films Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Valley Girl had already convinced me that I was, like, totally missing out on things by not being in southern California. Want to see for yourself? Van Halen’s headlining set in front of 375,000 people is right here and is a shining example of early 80s excess.
So here I am with my partners in crime for the day. The photo below was taken while Anthrax was playing “Antisocial”, and my old friend and “metal lawyer” Eric German, there on the left, just couldn’t stop singing along to that chorus. I get that. Next to Eric is guitarist extraordinaire Jeff George, whose new band Harlot will soon be selling albums and leaving trails of destruction in equal measures. Eric’s equally awesome wife Laura is second from right, and she is way more metal than you. Believe it, kiddo. Believe it.
So yeah, Iron Maiden. Let’s talk about them. It’s funny, because if you’re not into the band at all, especially here in the United States, they just sort of fly along under the radar and you never really hear about them. But they’re (not so) quietly one of the biggest bands in the world and have been for almost 30 years, even though they’ve never made the cover of Rolling Stone, never get played on the radio, and won’t ever get into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame unless they buy tickets. The crowd of 40,000 they pulled today is gigantic for them in the US but a normal day at the office in Europe, Asia, South America or Australia. Over time they’ve been able to pull off the very difficult trick of consistently making new albums of strong material that goes over well live and shows progression, but still has an instantly recognizable sound and lived-in feel from the first listen. They’re also expertly managed and have a very effective touring strategy (they alternate “new album” tours with “old stuff” tours; tonight was the latter), and there’s not a band or manager alive who couldn’t learn something from how they’ve do things and treat people.
Tonight’s show saw the band delivering the goods - as usual. Even though I’ve seen this band at least 15 times and I saw this exact same set last year, it’s an amazing production and time stands still while it happens. The set is heavily based around the “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” album (5 of the album’s 8 songs get an airing) and numerous other mid-80s classics - “The Number Of The Beast”, “The Trooper”, “2 Minutes To Midnight”, “Phantom Of The Opera”, “Aces High” along with sing-alongs “Run To The Hills”, “Iron Maiden” and “Running Free”. But none of this would be anywhere near what it is without the band members themselves, who have all remained in excellent physical shape well into their 50s, and so there’s no tired, “drag out the hits and get outta here” vibe in the least - the band starts the show in top gear and stays there for the duration. In particular, lead singer Bruce Dickinson tears around the stage in leaps and bounds like someone thirty years younger than he actually is, which is all the more amazing considering how powerful his vocals are and how difficult those songs are to sing. If you’re not familiar with his voice, all you need to know is that his nickname is The Human Air Raid Siren, and word has it that Bruce prepares for tours by putting instrumental versions of the full 2-hour set onto an iPod and then singing it while rollerblading nonstop around a track.
And if that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.