Palace of Auburn Hills
Auburn Hills, Mich.
If you’ve been watching Heroes on NBC, you were probably like me late last Monday night, when at the end of the new series’ fifth episode, its frustratingly fragmented storyline finally jelled. Hiro, the Japanese nerd who can shift time with his mind, confronted this other guy who is just beginning to understand his own power, which is that he can fly. Hiro has stopped time in the subway car this guy is riding in; the effect looks exactly like stoppage time used to look in “Charmed” when Piper did it. Anyway, this Greatest American Hero-in-waiting is wondering what’s going on when suddenly Hiro appears before him. Only, it’s not the bookish Hiro we know. His hair is slicked down and he’s dressed in chic black; a sword juts from a scabbard on his back. He’s also speaking fluent English. “I’m from the future,” he tells the flying guy. “And I have a message for you.” It was totally badass.
Hiro and the flying guy are only two of the people discovering their superpowers on Heroes — there’s also Ali Larter, who’s struggling with a murderous alter ego, and that chunky, quick-witted guy from Alias, who on this show plays a mind-reading beat cop. These characters are great, but for my money I wish the guy next to me at the Iron Maiden concert last night was on Heroes, too, because from the looks of him he’d been stopping time since 1980, content to use his power only to see as many Maiden shows as possible. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
He wore un-bloused Reeboks on his feet, the tongues wagging wildly whenever he jumped up and down, which he did a lot. His black jeans were tight. Up top there was a ratty denim jacket, its sleeves torn off long ago, no doubt during a particularly explosive bit of rocking. On the (now) vest? You know it — an Iron Maiden back patch depicting a Killers-era Eddie and “Iron Maiden” emblazoned in the band’s trademark triangular font. Then there was this guy’s head, and I say “head” because that’s what it was — an entity unto itself, just this big Janus face of metal love. Shanks of lank brown hair fell off from a center part, the bottom where it brushed his collar uneven, like he hacked it off at home. His nose was prominent and ethnic, the sort of nose that would get him cast in Saving Private Ryan or Flags of Our Fathers. A character and nation-defining blade that gave him a perpetually eager squint. He also wore wristbands, of course.
If this guy was the metal dude Hiro as I imagined, he would’ve been from 1979 or ’80, when he would have discovered his time-shifting ability while smoking a bent Kent cigarette behind the shop class outbuilding. He would’ve been getting ready to skip 4th and 5th periods so he could hit the Maiden show at the Municipal Auditorium. He’d do that, and it would rock. But then he would shift, and up somewhere in time, like in 2006 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, watching Iron Maiden’s original lineup tear it up for 7,000 rabid metal fans.
At one point during the show Bruce Dickinson panned a large spotlight back and forth across the crowd. He hit our section, and everyone cheered. But heavy metal Hiro had a better idea. He removed his denim vest, the one with the Iron Maiden back patch, and when Dickinson’s pan made its way back across our section, he held the vest aloft. Dickinson’s a fucking pro, and has probably been doing this spotlight pan gag for 35 years. He sees the vest, sees Eddie’s rictus staring right back at him, and pauses the spot on my man and his vest. He cheers. We all cheer. And it was just so totally metal that I had to break my moratorium on high fives.
As for Maiden, they were pretty metal too. Unlike Def Leppard, which toured this past summer with a fancy, multimillion-dollar stage rig that combined 1980s-style ramps with an enormous liquid crystal display and real-time editing of the footage, Maiden’s stage was low-tech and high-concept, like some kind of high school play gone wild. Carrying through the motif of Matter of Life and Death, their most recent (and very strong) record, the monitors were covered in sandbags, a dead paratrooper was strung from the lighting truss, and Nicko McBrain’s drums were set back in a pillbox-style bunker. Matte paintings depicting camo, sandbags and cement hung down from the ramps surrounding the stage’s centerpiece. It was so charmingly lame, just a new version of what Maiden’s always done, that it became charmingly awesome, better than any high-technology bullshit they might have come up with.
They saved the high technology for the tank turret and Eddie robot.
Yes, after two full sets of guitar solo fury and Dickinson hitting absolutely insane high notes like you read about, Maiden returned to the stage for the title track to their new album. And as they wailed something began to rise from behind the backline. What is that? I thought. Another Eddie painting? (The backdrops kept shifting all night, most including some depiction of the band’s famous undead mascot.) No, it wasn’t. This was an oversized tank turret, bringing to life the cover art for Life or Death, and as it turned the barrel came to point out over the stage. But wait, there’s more. As the barrel is belching smoke, and Dickinson’s yowling away, and the guitarists are shredding their (surprisingly tame) Fenders (must be a sponsorship/contractual obligation thing), an enormous Soldier Eddie walks out from stage right, rifle in hand. And he’s moving like a human, too, not all stuttery like the Terminator in the first movie. I don’t know if there was a dude inside Eddie’s big head controlling him with levers or what, but Soldier Eddie moved like a human, and it was creepy and awesome and — yes — just so totally metal.
If I had a TrapperKeeper, I would be drawing Soldier Eddie on the back right now.