Arena-metal shows are rarely surprising. And last Thursday's Iron Maiden gig at Bridgestone Arena — the relentlessly British band's first Nashville appearance in 21 years — was no exception. That's not a bad thing at all. With shockingly potent Maiden live clips from recent years in mind, The Spin went into the show with high expectations (as well as a little high) and left drunk on life (and on alcohol), beaming with satisfaction after spending 100 straight minutes watching the well-oiled band rip through a trove of guitarmony-replete shredders while our jaws were plastered to the floor.
From the precise, highly charged, ceaselessly entertaining, note-perfect performance to an equally inspired and inspiring stage production and an absolutely stellar set list ("Phantom of the Opera," anyone? Hello?), we really can't stress enough how impossibly flawless this show was.
Then there was consummate frontman Bruce Dickinson. The voice (glass-shatteringly high, unwaveringly un-pitchy and loud enough to crisply and clearly project over the already tinnitus-inducing volume of the band); the ringleader banter and constant crowd hyping (if we'd played a "Scream for me, Nashville!" drinking game, we'd have been dead before the band played "The Trooper"). Then there were the moves: wing-to-wing stage sprints followed by firm-crouched fighting stances and comically, awesomely exaggerated gestures that looked not unlike a sword-wielding sorcerer in a 90 mph windstorm. The 55-year-old Dickinson's indomitably energetic physical, vocal and performance prowess is, simply put, a golden middle finger to Mother Fucking Nature. How he can hit high notes while sprinting across a catwalk without running out of breath or tripping and tumbling 10 feet to the stage below we'll never know. Like any seasoned, fastidious veteran metal frontman, Dickinson is a boundlessly captivating caricature of himself. We say that with nothing but love. Even still, when it came to sheer entertainment — at least in our opinion — guitarist Janick Gers stole the show, keeping us in stitches all night with stage moves fit for a Reagan-era aerobics video: high kicks, dizzying full-body twirls and other neat tricks. Gers is a man of many talents, to be sure.
And of course, to offset the stage's Arctic-looking design, there was the fire — more varied and explosive pyro than you can shake an extinguisher at. The heat was so intense we could literally feel it from our perch in a private skybox across the arena. And what Maiden show would be complete without animatronic mascots and walking puppets? Of course there was Eddie, who at one point emerged from out of fog and flames like a not-so-frightening zombie, not to mention a towering, walking-dead General Custer stomping around the stage during "Run to the Hills." Like, a guy in a twice-the-size-of-a-full-grown-man skeleton puppet outfit. Sure, why not?
Even without all that Spinal Tap crap, Maiden could've kept the crowd's attention on the strength of the songs alone. Across the arena there were metalheads lost in their own world, listening to the hypnotic wash of guitarmonies more than they were watching the spectacle; air drumming to Stewart Copeland-of-metal Nicko McBrain's gridlocked grooves and machine-gun fills, head-banging and singing along (even talking along to pre-recorded audio and video clips, like one from The Prisoner, before the band played "The Prisoner"). Though metal shows are characteristically cathartic, you don't typically think of them as emotionally transcendent experiences. But for die-hard Music City Maiden fans, this one clearly was.
Openers Megadeth, despite having exceptionally elaborate stage production and sound mix for a support act, were no match for Maiden. Nevertheless, their warm-up set was fucking good, especially if you like Megadeth and don't mind the grating nature of Dave Mustaine's singing, which sounds to The Spin like a cross between a cat squealing and a kindergartner throwing a temper tantrum. The third-place Titans of Thrash had no problem enticing the pretty-packed house to sing along to 'Deth staples like "Peace Sells," "Symphony of Destruction" and "Holy Wars ... the Punishment Due" — an epic trifecta of songs that closed out the band's set. Somewhat disappointingly (we must admit), Mustaine made it through the show without making any dumbfounding political comments worthy of next-day Infowars headlines. He did, however, share this sage pearl from the stage:
"We don't wanna go to war in Syria, although some of those guys do need their asses kicked hard. War sucks. War's good for the economy. War's good for your pig elites. War's not good for metal."
Sunday night's show at Mercy Lounge was The Spin's first time seeing Pere Ubu live, and we were prepared for the band to be slightly less cool than they were in the '70s, when they produced some of the most otherworldly punk rock around. We needn't have worried. The band's riff-driven garage/weirdo rock sounded tight and propulsive, and just as arty, anxious and abrasive as we'd hoped.
One thing we should have been prepared for was just how punctual frontman David Thomas and his crew would be. We arrived around 9 p.m., having already missed opener Gagarin, a collaboration between Thomas and London electronic musician Graham Dowdall. Dowdall was denied a visa to join the U.S. tour and had to join Thomas via Internet projection. It sounds like a genuinely unique rock experience, and we're sorry not to have seen it.
Ubu opened with the 1989 single "Love, Love, Love"; the one-and-a-half-hour set mixed classic '70s material with '80s and '90s deep cuts and songs from their new album Lady From Shanghai. As he typically does, Thomas delivered vocals from a chair, equipped with a binder of lyrics and a flask full of an unidentified beverage. Ubu augments their guitar feedback with a creative assortment of synth sounds, including clanks, squeaky-wheel sounds, bassy rumbles and staticky roars provided by multi-instrumentalist Robert Wheeler. The sounds form a fitting accompaniment to Thomas' curiously high-pitched warble and are balanced by an awesomely loud and tight rhythm section. Steve Mehlman's drums were ferocious; Michele Temple's catchy bass lines could be heard from the parking lot.
Thomas' onstage persona suggests a funny, acerbic dad: "I don't see why I should thank you for applauding us. What have I got to thank you for?" "I always wanted to be Jon Bon Jovi. You laugh — no, no. If I had been much thinner and had a better chest situation — I can do all that stuff." Breaking into a brief rendition of "Slippery When Wet," he continued, "I probably could have been a better Jon Bon Jovi than Jon Bon Jovi was."
The performance reminded us of just how many great songs are in Ubu's 35-year catalog. The uneasy, seasick surf rock of "The Modern Dance" featured blasts of synth fuzz; the off-kilter funk of "Misery Goats" was enhanced by cartoony theremin squeals; "414 Seconds" is a post-punk number with eerie, angular guitar lines. "The Road Trip of Bipasha Ahmed" sounded moody and noirish — Thomas sang into a telephone handset that produced a compressed vocal squawk. With its impeccably catchy melody, "Goodnite Irene" could be a Top 40 hit from a parallel universe.
The moderately sized crowd — which skewed toward guys in black T-shirts and glasses — was rocking out with unfeigned abandon. Although Ubu's latest record exhorts the listener to "Smash the Hegemony of Dance. Stand Still," fans engaged in more rhythmic physical movement than we see at most Nashville shows. And they were downright overjoyed when Ubu returned to the stage for a greatest-hits encore that included "Heaven" and the menacing "Final Solution" (featuring guitar-god solos by Dave Cintron).
After the show, Thomas & Co. sat on the stage to sell stuff and hold court with star-struck fans. It was an intimate evening that only increased our reverence for Pere Ubu. And if the show didn't draw an arena-sized crowd, it's not their fault. It's Chris Isaak's. On learning that the "Wicked Game" singer was playing a show the same night, Mehlman exclaimed, "So that's where our fuckin' audience went!"
Jack likes hip hop. The guy is a Detroit native, any music about struggle is…
jared corder complaining about people moving here is a bit ironic. pot meet kettle.
nobody said so so glos and desaparecidos for best 2013 show! surprising.
Totally agree with Caves as top album of the year----killer album!
Looks like a bunch of people jerking off all over their drinkin' buddies.