LIVE: Bruce Dickinson @ The Egg, 02/02/2022
It was Groundhog Day in Albany, but an appearance by Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson – doing a band-and-(mostly)-music-free solo talking show – is hardly a Groundhog Day-type event – Dickinson hasn’t performed in Albany (or the Nippertown area) in over 30 years, since Iron Maiden last played the area in January 1991 at the then-Knickerbocker Arena, with Anthrax supporting. Strange, that. Maiden were regulars in the area from 1981, pre-Dickinson, when they first opened for Judas Priest at the Palace Theater, until that 1991 gig, also hitting the Glens Falls Civic Center (3x), and RPI Fieldhouse (2x), with Bruce himself, also playing a solo band show at Saratoga Winners in Latham in 1990. And then nothing for 31 years. Until now.
Not a packed house this night. I’d estimate the seats at a bit over half-full. Maybe this was due to COVID, or his band’s lack of engagement in our geographical area, or the fact that Bruce isn’t known as a spoken-word guy. But the crowd was engaged and into it, and heavily populated by Iron Maiden shirts of all vintages. And why shouldn’t Dickinson do spoken word? Aside from being the guy from Iron Maiden, he’s a fencer (has competed internationally), an aviator (and a former airline pilot), an author (including some fun Douglas Adams-style novels), a DJ, and a brewer. Lots to talk about.
To be sure, there was some Iron Maiden-related talk from Mr. Dickinson, but this wasn’t a night of Maiden stories: he covered a gamut of subjects, delivered animatedly, with English humor sprinkled throughout, and spot-on vocal imitations of band-mates, his manager, and stuffy, sexually inappropriate schoolteachers. The promo photos and videos for the tour depicted Dickinson in a neat white shirt and vest, but this night he hit the stage casually, black jeans, black tee, black hoodie, bright red sneakers, shoulder-length silver hair. He would switch subjects, aided by a pointer and screen behind him with photos of whichever subject he was on.
And he covered everything from birth (cleverly working in the “Egg” angle) to his battle with cancer. His early years were covered with humor – home town (Worksop, UK), parents, grandparents, attending “public” (i.e. private) boarding school as a youth, and getting kicked out for a manure delivery to the school’s front steps, and pissing in the headmaster’s dinner. Regarding family, he returned often to an uncle, a former WWII fighter ace, which fit neatly into his early years and later aviation adventures.
And, of course, music. Bruce delved into school-era bands, discovering Deep Purple, being on his university concert committee and bringing the band Gillan to campus, and playing pub gigs with his University band Shots. As an NWOBHM enthusiast, I liked that he told a whole lot of stories about his pre-Iron Maiden band Samson, who put out some great LPs with Dickinson between 1979-81 and got exactly nowhere success-wise (although those are some killer metal records., if you can find them). And of course, there were tales of joining Iron Maiden, jostling with Steve Harris on stage, early tours opening for Rainbow and .38 Special, and so on. Very little (i.e. nothing) about his exit from Iron Maiden in 1993, his moderately successful-at-best solo career in the 1990s, or rejoining Maiden in ’99.
But he did delve – a lot, and it was a highlight of the talk – into his experiences as an aviator, being an airline pilot in the early 2000s, and travels connected thereto. And of course, as he discussed at length in his autobiography a few years back, his experiences with cancer, chemo, radiation, and a funny story of his beard falling right off his face as a result of chemo – while he was drinking in a pub.
The night finished, after an intermission, with a Q&A session – the audience was invited to drop questions in boxes in the lobby, and Dickinson answered them. Were they all real questions? Unknown – there was an awful lot about aviation, and with a crowd full of Maiden shirts, very little about Iron Maiden, so maybe he sprinkled in some of his own staged queries to give him a runway to topics he wanted to cover. But it did lead to one of the best stories of the night – that Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain was actually the first band member to become a pilot, which led to a tale about how, while the band was rehearsing on the Isle of Jersey in the 80s, Bruce and a fencing comrade became trapped in northern France across the English Channel, and he convinced Nicko and his flight instructor to fly a 140 HP small engine plane over to France to get Bruce back to Jersey, a hilarious story punctuated with some great McBrain impressions.
The whole thing lasted a hefty 3+ hours, but went quickly, and wrapped up with the only bit of music of the evening (other than the intermission Iron Maiden video) – Dickinson belting out an a cappella version of “Revelations”, from Maiden’s 1983 ‘Piece of Mind’ record, and exiting the stage to applause.
Great night, and top points to Bruce for an engaging talk.