by Skylaire Alfvegren
“Scream for me… Mumbai… Tokyo… San Juan… Caracas… Irvine.”
The most epic band of this or any epoch, the ultimate proletariat musical outfit, Iron Maiden performed for close to two million people in early 2008, when they resurrected their mighty mid-80s oeuvre for the “Somewhere Back in Time” tour. Considered the most ambitious rock tour in the history of the cosmos, not only did band, crew and 12 tons of gear travel over 500,000 miles on a specially equipped Boeing 757, vocalist Bruce Dickinson piloted the plane. A pair of award-winning Toronto-based filmmakers documented the dementia with Iron Maiden: Flight 666, to be unleashed on DVD June 9th.
Inter-cut with the tortures of non-stop jet lag, feisty crews hauling equipment, take-offs and landings, the same scene is repeated ad infinitum: spotlighting a slice of the world, hordes of Maiden fans descend on each sold out venue, skies darken, and the band completely kills it. In that sense, it’s a concert film of the most epic proportions, but Flight 666 is “not made for the fans, it IS the fans,” says Loki-like percussionist Nicko McBrain. “We’re as good as our audience.”
Sound bites from—and insights into—band members pepper the film: outspoken golfing fanatic McBrain tees off, Dickinson explains that two family members were in England’s Royal Air Force, bassist Steve Harris brings his three daughters along for the ride. Guitarists Janick Gers (“the lone soldier”) and Adrian Smith largely avoid the camera while guitarist Dave Murray is defined by McBrain as Maiden’s “wise counsel.” But the spotlight is on the people who come to see the band, rather than on the band itself, almost as if the tour was an ambassadorial realization of Maiden’s own global village.
Blown away by multitudes in Mumbai, and meeting a family attending a concert together in Australia (“Why? Because they’re awesome!”), viewers get an idea how the band sold out each of their 23 stadium and arena shows across the globe. In Columbia, where the paramilitary presence is stifling, three miles of tents are spread out in front of the venue.
“Latin American countries live on music… more so than any place in the world,” explains McBrain. “The further south we go, the hotter it gets,” Dickinson says in the film. The band visits Chile, after having been banned by the Catholic Church there in the 1980s. Oxygen tanks and buckets for vomit flank the stage in Bogotá. At the same show a grown man breaks down in tears after having caught one of McBrain’s sticks. We meet a priest in Sao Paolo with 162 Maiden tattoos, who crafts sermons around the band’s lyrics. In Manaus--the heart of the Brazilian rain forest--a fan tells us that he lives “in the ass of the world.”
After Maiden was voted the Best British Live Act at the U.K.’s famed Brit Awards, Flight 666 won the “24 Beats Per Second” award for best documentary at South by Southwest, and opened for one day at over 400 cinemas worldwide on April 21st, christened International Maiden Day. In Hollywood, four screenings sold out at Mann’s Chinese. Members of the “Maiden Army” filed in quietly, politely, but sang along in the darkness of the theatre. An onscreen appearance by Ronnie James Dio elicited far more whoops and hollers than Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello.
In 1985, McBrain got his pilot’s license and promptly flew the band across America during the original “Somewhere in Time” tour. “Bruce figured if the drummer could do it, he could do it,” he chuckles. For over two decades, and with miniscule radio attention, nonexistent MTV airplay and shredding in more or less a media vacuum, Maiden has remained relevant. “When you have a good piece of music, there’s a class to it, a panache,” McBrain explains. The film “brings it home, what we do and why we do it. There’s so much in life that is disappointment… but there’s a quality about the way we care, and this is a true testament to the passion of the band.”
© Skylaire Alfvegren