The Iron Maidens
Sunday 29th October 2017
O2 Academy, Islington, London
It was a cold dark night on a Halloween weekend and the streets of Angel, Islington were filled with devils, demons and various decomposing corpses. And that was just inside the venue. Because tonight we are here at the O2 Academy Islington to watch the excellent Iron Maidens, complete with assorted versions of Eddie. An oh-so appropriate band for the occasion. For those of you not familiar with the band (yet, I expect you will be…) Iron Maidens are an LA based all-female tribute act to one of the biggest Rock bands on the planet. It’s no small feat to carry off a good tribute act, let alone one that is at the top of their game and still currently touring. And if said tribute act are also endorsed by the band and have been known to have played with various members of the band, you start to get a picture of how good this lot are. More of that later….
The line-up is Kirsten “Bruce Chickinson” Rosenberg on vocals, Linda “Nikki McBURRain” McDonald on drums, Courtney “Adriana Smith” Cox and Nikki “Davina Murray” Stringfield on guitar and Wanda "Steph Harris" Ortiz on bass. Whereas the originals are all gentlemen of near bus pass vintage, our heroes of tonight are neither. Yet they manage to visually display enough similarity that is expected of a tribute act. The outfits are broadly similar, although they provide a far more eye pleasing rendition of spandex strides than do the originals, along with touches like West Ham sweat bands, bass stickers and replica Steve Harris shorts. Thankfully Linda bore no physical resemblance to Mr. McBrain (sorry Nicko….)
But where the Maidens excel is in their rendition of a string of Iron Maiden classics. Near note perfect, the twin guitars of Courtney Cox and Nikki Stringfield really catch the sound. Courtney plays a signature Schecter Nikki Stringfield A-6 FR S guitar through a Mesa Rectifier whilst Nicki plays a Caparison through Peavey Valveking. Sandwiched between the two is little powerhouse Wanda Ortiz providing a thumping bass that, at this venue at least, was almost overpowering. And keeping the groove together at the back on a drum kit of no small size is Linda McDonald, arms just a blur.
Front and centre, and leading the line is Kirsten Rosenberg. An animal rights advocate, she is also a devoted Iron Maiden advocate too. Aside from Bruce Dickinson, Rosenberg's musical influences include Geoff Tate, Ann Wilson, Doro Pesch, Robin Zander and Pat Benatar, as well as Karen Carpenter, Barbra Streisand and Christina Aguilera. That’s quite a mix. Now Bruce is renowned for the quality and range of his voice. He has an estimated vocal range of 4.25 octaves (B1-F5(-B5), started out as standard tenor, a singing voice between baritone and alto or countertenor, the highest of the ordinary adult male range, but eventually his voice lowered into lower tenor. So what better way to replicate that range than with a woman’s voice of both power and clarity, backed by the passion for his music. You would struggle to find a fella to do so. The only thing she failed to do tonight was land a jumbo jet on stage. Come on Kirsten, get that in the set.
So the Quintet burst onto the stage to the rather surprising intro music of UFO’s 'Doctor Doctor'. Even more surprising was that there was no support band to warm the crowd. That may have been why the initial look of the crowd was of extras from Michael Jackson’s 'Thriller' video. I suppose it was Halloween but there was more life in between the roadies toes than amongst the audience. That soon changed when the opening bars of 'Aces High' were sounded. The audience awoke as necromancer Rosenberg exhorts them to "Scream for me London" to the meticulous rendition of the 'Powerslave' classic. And scream they did with pleasure. Many of the now enlivened crowd were sporting tour t-shirts from the May 2017’s 'Book of Souls' tour so were a tough audience to please. But I heard no dissenting voice. Added to that the fact that this was a tour of Maidens greatest hits in a small venue and you wonder if this may be the way to go in the future. There are O2 gigs and there are O2 gigs…
So the hits kept coming. 'Infinite Dreams' from the '7th Son' album followed and then 'Wasted Years' from the 'Somewhere In Time' album. It was here that we got our first visit from Eddie, upholding the Halloween theme with his 'Somewhere In Time' psycho cyborg look. I’m not sure what animatronics these guys use but Eddie almost looked human in the way that he moved… Giving Rosenberg a break (not that she needed it) the band launch into the instrumental 'Losfer Words (Big Orra)' from the 'Powerslave' Album, probably one of the best driving tunes around. If you don’t mind being nicked for speeding. And back into the fray sporting a redcoat and waving a Union flag comes Rosenberg for a powerful rendition of The Trooper from the 'Piece Of Mind' album. We are getting the full gamut of top Maiden tunes tonight. The crowd erupt for this one as the LA Femmes get the chance to wave the flag in its home town. As they declare, they are so honoured to be playing London, the home of Iron Maiden. We’re honoured to have you.
'Flash Of The Blade' from 'Powerslave' and 'Can I Play With Madness' from '7th Son' are despatched with near note perfect precision – a huge feat of skill when you realise how many notes we are talking about here. 'The Dance of Death' album was given some love when they played a superb rendition of 'Montseur'. A much underrated album, Rosenberg assigns us all homework to go and revisit the album whenever we can. Yes Miss. I might chance detention. Sigh. Now you can only follow that with 'Number of the Beast'. So that’s what they did. Rosenberg donned suitable studded wrist bands to accessorise her booming vocals for a huge crowd favourite. I was so wrapped up in the singing that I almost failed to spot a poor bedraggled old gentleman who seemed to have got lost and wandered onto the stage. My mistake, it was the Devil from the album cover who had appeared. He pointed at me in what looked like an accusing glance for not respecting my elders before shambling off stage left. Must be a mind reader. Scary stuff.
Slowing the tempo down the Maidens launched into the atmospheric 'Children of the Damned' from same album, showcasing Rosenbergs great voice and gaining huge applause before taking things back to the beginning with 'Purgatory' from the 'Killers' album. You could really feel how raw that sounded as a track and how polished latter tracks felt in comparison. Rosenberg promises us a real treat later (is that trick or treat material? My mum warned me about accepting sweets from strangers) before announcing that they will play a song that Iron Maiden have never played live. Surprisingly this turned out to be 'Alexander the Great' from the 'Somewhere In Time' album. Hate to mention this, but I saw them play this when they toured the 'Somewhere in Time' album in November 1986 (I would only have been 1 year old at the time…. Ahem). They still made a fine job of it though and the audience participation showed that everyone else thought so too. And audience participation was the name of the game as Rosenberg led a standard Bruce Dickinson crowd clapathon to 'Running Free' from their original eponymous album. Clichéd? Maybe. Fun? Definitely. And to close out the set is my personal favourite, and apparently every other Maiden fans favourite 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' from their be(a)st selling 'Beast' Album. Those who had been in attendance at the May 2017 shows had missed out on their classic track due to an ongoing lawsuit so it was doubly enjoyable to hear the best track of the night. The band left the stage to a huge applause and obvious chant for more.
The obligatory encore ensued. I expect that they did so because Iron Maiden do encores so a good tribute act should do so too. And it was here that we learned of our special treat. Yes, lets welcome to the stage a former member of Iron Maiden to perform with them. Will it be Bruce? Or Steve? Or maybe Nicko will batter the tubs? Oh, it’s Paul DiAnno….. Wheeled onto stage (literally, he’s convalescing from an arthritic leg condition) the once frontman joined the band in a final rendition of 'Wrathchild' and Iron Maiden in his own East End style. As Eddie makes a final zombified appearance DiAnno proclaims ‘You never told me my wife was coming’. Class. Our special Treat came to an end and the Maidens exit stage left to huge applause. As tribute bands go, these are the best. And a tribute to the best live rock band on the planet. Do yourself a favour. If you like a bit of Maiden, go see what all the fuss is about for yourself.
So we had zombies, devils, demons and cyborgs. A scary night. Although nothing was as scary as the bar prices. And it was an obvious night for 'Fear Of The Dark' but I guess there is only so much you can do in an hour and a half. So what did you do on your Halloween Sunday evening? Get dressed up in a costume, painted a smile on your face and went out knocking on old ladies doors, extorting their last Worthers Original out of them? I went to see the Iron Maidens do their thing and my smile was real.
Mother (Photos courtesy of Trevor Reynolds)