Iron Maiden rocks Sumo Central (Concert Review)

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Iron Maiden – Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo, April 21, 2016

What do I need to say – it’s freakin’ Iron Maiden!! Of course, it was great! This show was unique in the fact that they were playing a tiny arena (for them), so it was a different experience for everyone. Unfortunately, the last time I’d seen Maiden was back in 2008 on the Somewhere Back in Time tour, which was full of hits from the ‘80s. Half of this show, on the other hand, IMG_9873included 6 songs from the new album, The Book of Souls. If you read my review of the album (Book of Souls-An Epic Maiden Return) or checked out Decibel Geek’s Best of 2015 post (What You Should Have Been Listening to in 2015), you’ll know that I thought this was a brilliant album. The progressive attitude, amazing musicianship and Bruce Dickinson’s really strong voice all produced a worthy addition to the Maiden catalog. I wasn’t going to miss seeing them performed live!

The day before I had seen the Winery Dogs, which had no production at all, so to go from that to the full stage set being carried around on Ed Force One just added to the excitement. It looked like an Aztec ruin with Dickinson in a game of Tomb Raider. I don’t know how the other shows have gone, but this was a very manual set up. There was no main curtain so, to keep the mystery, as the music started, the roadies (maybe when they reach a certain age, we should call them stagehands) had to pull tarps off all of the stage pieces. In addition, the backdrops changed between each song – manually. Someone literally pulled one curtain to the side, and the one behind it was revealed.

If this is NOT how it is done in the larger arenas, it’s probably due to the setting (if it IS how the other shows were done, maybe they should spend less on the plane!). It’s a tough name, but the Kokugikan is the main Sumo arena in Tokyo, and only holds about 10,000 people. Since they had to cut off a good portion of the seats to fit the stage, they probably only sold about 8,000IMG_9206 seats. And I use that term loosely. The mezzanine section, in fact, has no seats. It is divided into small spaces meant for 4 people to sit Japanese-style, on their legs, to watch sumo. Most people even took their shoes off, keeping with tradition. With portraits of famous sumo wrestlers looking down on us from the corners of the ceiling, it was a surreal setting.

Dickinson addressed this in between songs by saying that many arenas were under construction in preparation for the Olympics in 2020, and the more famous Budokan (judo arena) had “some guy” (that would be Eric Clapton). He appreciated the close quarters – an almost intimate show – but that didn’t diminish his energy level at all. In keeping with the story line, sometimes he was on top of the wall, sometimes he was simply running around, but he always hit the notes. His voice continues to amaze me, and his health seems to have completely recovered.

The rest of the band was tight as usual. Guitarists Dave Murray, Jannick Gers and Adrian Smith nailed the solos and interacted with each other often. Bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain were perfectly in synch all night, and the music truly sounded great – and LOUD – in such a small space. The new songs are a bit long, and Eddie made his appearance during a 10-minute version of “The Book of Souls”. Needless to say, it didn’t go well for Eddie.

While the new songs mostly fit in well (there were, unfortunately no distractions in the just as long “The Red and the Black”, IMG_9826which followed my least favorite song on the album, “Tears of a Clown”), it was the older songs that got the biggest reaction. “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, “Iron Maiden”, “Number of the Beast” and “Wasted Years” were sung by the entire building – including the solos – and they ended the show by kicking soccer balls out into the crowd (it pays to be tall in Japan!).

Oh yeah, there was an opening band, too – a rarity in Japan. The Raven Age is another British band, and I had never heard of them before. My bad – their lead singer, George Harris is Steve Harris‘s son! Their music is modern hard rock. Harris was wearing a Tremonti shirt to give you an idea. It was a bit melodic mixed in with hard rock and some metal. In keeping with the modern style, there was very little in the way of a solo, but the music had some good hooks, and they won a few new fans that night.

On the way out, aside from the looks I got as I carried my new soccer ball prize, I was in for one more surprise. I wound up walking behind another gaijin wearing a shirt from that show in 2008 at MSG! He actually went to the show in NJ, which was also on the shirt, but the coincidence was pretty astounding. I just hope I don’t wait another 8 years to see them again!

If Eternity Should Fail
Speed of Light
Children of the Damned
Tears of a Clown
The Red and the Black
The Trooper
Death or Glory
The Book of Souls
Hallowed Be Thy Name
Fear of the Dark
Iron Maiden

The Number of the Beast
Blood Brothers
Wasted Years

Iron Maiden website / Iron Maiden Facebook / Iron Maiden YouTube / Iron Maiden Twitter

BUY: Iron Maiden Albums (If you don’t have them by now, what’s wrong with you?!?!)

Written by: Dave Glynn
PHOTO CREDITS: Masahiro Kawakami

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