I’ve never been an enormous fan of concert movies, though I can’t really explain why, since they represent a kind of opportunity. Certainly some concerts are priced way, way out of the range of ordinary folks — even a mid-size concert from a less than huge artist/band can cost $100 or more — and many tours fail to come through your neck of the woods at all. There’s also this little detail: sometimes a concert or tour happened years ago and absent a time machine, there’s no way to actually see the show in question. That’s where concert films come in.
It helps if a concert film isn’t just video of a performance. I have watched, and probably will watch again, DVDs where we see a particular stage show from beginning to end, but these are the kinds of concert movies I have that niggling problem with. It’s nice to hear the music and see the performers, but it seems like there could be more to it. I could not have articulated what that “more” would entail, though, until I saw Iron Maiden: Flight 666. It has more. So much more.
Back in 2008, Iron Maiden decided to embark on an ambitious world tour unlike any tour that had happened before. Hitting cities that rarely, if ever, saw large international acts come through, and traveling to countries Iron Maiden had never even been before, the “Somewhere Back in Time World Tour” would average 2,000 miles between shows and take place in a matter of a couple of months.
Iron Maiden was able to do all of this by trying something completely new. Rather than transporting the band and their stage gear the old-fashioned way, Iron Maiden would travel via a customized Boeing 757 that would hold everything in its belly, allowing the whole show to arrive in the same place at the same time in a hurry. And they would be in a hurry to get all of this done. You don’t travel from hemisphere to hemisphere, even to opposite sides of the world, in two months without putting the pedal to the metal (so to speak).
To make the process of transport even more unique Flight 666, as it was called, was piloted by none other than Iron Maiden’s lead singer, Bruce Dickinson. Die-hard Iron Maiden fans know that Dickinson is a devoted pilot, but this may come as a shock to people who know little to nothing about the band. Dickinson is not only an incredibly gifted vocalist, but he’s a driven perfectionist. Learning how to fly a jumbo jet is not something for the fainthearted.
I came to Iron Maiden fandom somewhat late. As a kid I saw all the Iron Maiden t-shirts the metalheads at my school wore, but for some reason this turned me off from actually listening to the band’s music. I guess I got the sense that they were overhyped, and possibly over-commercialized, and though that wasn’t the case at all I labored under this misapprehension for decades. I’m not saying that Iron Maiden’s music rocks the cosmos, but they’re really a very good metal band. Nicko McBrain, the band’s drummer, likes to say they’re a progressive rock band, but let there be no mistake: Iron Maiden is a heavy metal band, and one of the first order.
Of course the mere fact that Iron Maiden is metal will immediately shrink the potential audience for Iron Maiden: Flight 666. I can’t imagine any person who is not already a fan of the musical genre, if not the band itself, watching the movie. I like to think that even a non-metalhead would find something to like about Iron Maiden’s music, especially the tracks played during the course of the film, but the truth is that some people just don’t like metal and there’s no band or song that’s going to change that. C’est la vie.
Anyway, what about the documentary itself? If you haven’t inferred from the review so far, Iron Maiden: Flight 666 is quite good and fans of metal/Iron Maiden are going to find a lot to like here. Iron Maiden has made a tradition for some time of giving their tours themes. As I write this Iron Maiden is embarking on a lengthy tour that will stretch into 2013, and the name of the tour is the “Maiden England World Tour.” This tour has a setlist that corresponds closely to the songs featured in the Maiden England video released way back in 1989. The songs on the tour are mostly from Iron Maiden’s album, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. I’m not a huge fan of that album — though it’s still top-quality, don’t get me wrong — so I’m going to pass, but I know people who really dug the Maiden England video and the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album and are going gaga over it. Have a lot of fun, I say.
The “Somewhere Back in Time World Tour,” which Iron Maiden: Flight 666 features, was a fairly faithful recreation of the “World Slavery Tour” that ran from 1984 to 1985. This means that some truly classic songs like “The Trooper” and “Aces High” appeared on the setlist. As it happens I’m quite fond of that period in Iron Maiden’s history, so Iron Maiden: Flight 666 is like catnip to me: all songs I like, all performed at once.
When quizzed by the press during the tour, Iron Maiden made it abundantly clear that they were not performing the old “World Slavery Tour” setlist because they had transformed into a nostalgia act. Rather they were doing so in order to give their new generation of fans, who had never heard those particular songs live before, the opportunity to do so. As a result you could consider it something of a gift from the past. I wish I’d been there to see it.
Iron Maiden: Flight 666 punctuates its musical interludes with extensive behind-the-scenes moments, showing what the members of the band do when they’re on tour, from signing countless autographs to braving enormous crowds of fans just to get into their hotel. The band members take time out to talk about where they’ve been and where they’re going and it’s a very nice package altogether.
If you’re at all interested in Iron Maiden, I would definitely recommend Iron Maiden: Flight 666 to you. You’re going to hear some great tunes, learn some fun things and generally enjoy yourself. It makes other concert films, which are just wall-to-wall music, seem a little shallow by comparison.