Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Iron Maiden at IZOD Arena

Definition of a good show: when you're pissed off at Ticketmaster for screwing you over on your tickets but still have a great time. The scene: the IZOD Arena in the Meadowlands, which has become the more convenient version of the Nassau Coliseum to put on shows of this magnitude: too big for music halls in the City, too small to book at PNC or MSG or Giants Stadium. I saw Maiden there a year and a half ago from a well-placed set of seats, but this time around, I opted - along with a large group of other people I knew through a friend - to do the floor option instead. Little did I suspect that either the fix was in, or Ticketmaster made their ticket purchase page really confusing, but the end result was the same: when my wife and I got inside, we found that our tickets said "floor back" and our friends' tickets said "VIP." Functionally, this meant we were in the back half of the floor, and the rest of the lucky bastards got to work their way up front.

Here's the important point, though: getting stuck in the back pissed me off something fierce, because it put us in literally the worst spot in the whole arena, with the exception (maybe) of the poor souls all of the way up and in the back, who probably paid less than we did for the pleasure of watching a music video with a few glimpses of the band on stage. However, despite the crippling limitation on sight lines that left us mainly at the mercy of the venue camera director and whatever they decided to project on the screens, we still had a really good time, because Maiden put on such a good show. Playing about three quarters of the tracks from the Live After Death DVD, Maiden surrounded themselves with hieroglyphed tablets, mummy statues with red-glowing Eddie eyes, and enormous gorgeous backdrops with art from Powerslave, "The Trooper," "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and Somewhere in Time. This was a conscious attempt at a big rock show, too: an Eddie robot, steam jets, flame jets, fireworks, a crowd of Maiden fans brought out to sing the bridge of "Heaven Can Wait." Then they blew us all away by almost apologetically promising us more with a return of the tour in June, hooking everyone on the spot for the next go. My favorite part of the night: "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," one of my favorite Maiden songs, done in all of the epic majesty it deserves.

And Bruce...Bruce Dickinson has reserved a special place in my heart. Far more than he did in the 2006 show - and in a way that reminded me of Russell Allen when I saw Symphony X last June - Bruce was storyteller as much as singer, adopting simple costuming - a red uniform jacket and Union Jack for "The Trooper," a shredded black cloak for "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" - and mannerisms and movements to bring his characters to life. Then there was the stage banter: self-mocking about his trademark "scream for me," teasing us with convoluted introductions ("Does anyone here like birds...or mythical creatures?"), telling stories during equipment changes that kept the pace of the show on track. If there's a bard of metal, it was Bruce that Friday night.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Who's the Sucker Now?

Yesterday I had the pleasure (so to speak) of getting a promo copy of Cover Up, Ministry's real swan song record (The Last Sucker not withstanding, apparently). Enclosed was a lengthy, rambling press release stating the record's raison d'etre through the faux-cool language PR people always seem to use when promoing a record: dancing around the edge of hyperbole, chock full of disconnected adjectives, etc. Seems that Dr. Alien Jourgensen decided that going out on a Bush-hating no fun bang wasn't good for his image, so he and Burton C. Bell and various members of the Revolting Cocks and Ministry and anyone else who was around decided they'd record all of the songs that motivated them to kick ass when they were kids. Since "when they were kids" means the late 60s and early 70s, the selections are from the same time period, and include some previous releases ("Supernaut" was on the first Black Sabbath tribute CD, and "Roadhouse Blues" came from The Last Sucker, because releasing the same song on two different albums less than a year apart is a great idea).

As you can probably tell from the hints in the previous paragraph, I'm not a big fan of this record, and my ire goes beyond Jourgensen stealing the name I used for a mix CD of covers I made about seven years ago (although he took cover up in the conspiracy context, using a pre-assassination picture of JFK, and I took it in a porn context, Photoshopping black boxes on a Playboy playmate). If you've been following along, you've probably guessed the reason: Ministry is an industrial band, and the songs he chose are about as straight up rock as you can get. Now, I have no problem with some genre-bending cover action; I think it takes real talent to remake a song in a totally different image and still have the result make sense to those who know the original (see Queensryche - Take Cover for a good example). But Ministry's covers don't innovate, they destroy.

Take "Black Betty," for example. The original song rocks because the solo guitar riff (especially the breaks in the solo guitar riff) grabs your attention. It's the definition of a hook. Ministry's cover of "Black Betty," however, tosses in an electronic double bass line in the background, cutting the power of the hook in half. The rest of the songs - the ones I could stomach listening to, anyway - have similar issues, all coming back to the same basic problem: these covers lack the grit that makes the originals so good. These aren't songs you wash up and take home to Mom; they're balls-out rockers that smoke, drink, and curse their way through three minutes and thirty seconds, and polishing them up - even as you try and make them kick ass in a very modern way - just makes 'em lame. And in the end, that's Cover Up in a word: lame.