Iron Maiden Enthralls San Bernardino With Massive Show & Stellar Support Cast

By Andrew Bansal

September 13th 2013, San Manuel Amphitheater, San Bernardino CA: Following a full North American tour last year, heavy metal giants Iron Maiden returned to the States for one final leg of the ‘Maiden England’ tour, and the last gig took place in San Bernardino yesterday. Besides Iron Maiden and touring support act Megadeth, this show also had Anthrax, Testament, Sabaton, Overkill and Warbringer in its mouth-watering lineup, making it a metal mecca of sorts, and an absolute must-attend event for all Southern California metalheads. Sure enough, fans traveled from all parts of California and beyond to witness this potentially historic gig, and as soon as the parking lots opened at 10 AM, people started flocking in to prepare themselves for a long, epic day of metal.

The doors opened at 1 PM and even though the number of people in line was already huge, things were moving slow at the entrance as the venue’s staff took a while to get these people in. Some folks even had to wait till long after the show had begun, which didn’t please them. But anyhow, the show began at 2:15 with the first band Warbringer hitting the second stage. Unfortunately, at this time I was still waiting outside at the box office for my press credentials to come through, so I ended up missing the band’s set entirely. But I managed to find out their set list, and based on what I heard from trusted sources, they put on a good show, as always. They’re an incredibly energetic and intense young thrash band who are pretty much at the peak of their powers right now in terms of their live performances. They mixed up their 7-song set with material from all three studio albums and also debuted a couple of tracks from the upcoming 4th album ‘IV: Empires Collapse’. Warbringer will be back on tour in November with Kreator and Overkill, I’ll be sure to catch them then, and I’d suggest all North American folks to do the same.

Set List:
1. Living Weapon
2. Severed Reality
3. Wake Up…Destroy
4. Scars Remain
5. The Turning of the Gears
6. Living in a Whirlwind
7. Combat Shock

The mighty East Coast thrash veterans Overkill took the same stage promptly at 3, and I was still waiting outside but could hear their music from a distance. They were on the 4th song of the set ‘Bring Me The Night’ by the time I finally made it in and found this elusive second stage. It was the weirdest setting anyone could ever imagine. Unlike how this venue does it for the Mayhem Festival shows, the second stage was set up as a ‘plaza’ stage near the main entrance, with a tiny general admission standing area surrounded by food and merchandise stalls. This little area filled up quite quickly and I heard a lot of people complaining about not being allowed to go there, as a result having to miss Overkill. As for the band themselves, Bobby Blitz and his mates seemed extremely glad to be part of this event and put in more than their 100 per cent for every moment of their 9-song set. They played songs off of their two most recent albums Ironbound and The Electric Age and mixed them up with old classics like ‘Rotten To The Core’, ‘Wrecking Crew’, ‘Elimination’ and ‘Fuck You’.

But, the sound emanating from this so-called ‘stage’ was pathetically bad, and I felt really awful for the Overkill guys. The sound was bouncing around the place and for people anywhere other than the first couple of rows, it was near impossible to hear anything at all. Honestly, this whole idea of having the first two bands on the second stage was not the right one to begin with, and the manner in which it was executed, it would be fair to say it turned out to be a disaster of catastrophic proportions. This half-assed arrangement was an insult to Overkill and Warbringer and a disturbing predicament for their fans. It was really strange, and why all seven bands weren’t playing on the one single main stage itself is beyond my comprehension and understanding. Thankfully, the horrendous second stage was over and done with for the day when Overkill ended their set at 3:55, and everyone made their way towards the main stage to set camp for the rest of the evening.

Set List:
1. Come and Get It
2. Rotten to the Core
3. Wrecking Crew
4. Bring Me the Night
5. Electric Rattlesnake
6. Ironbound
7. Hammerhead
8. Elimination
9. Fuck You

Quite a few people were caught off-guard as the first main stage band Swedish metal warriors Sabaton started their set 10 minutes before the scheduled time of 4:20. So, it took a little while for people to get involved in the show, not only because of the early start but also because of the sheer indifference towards this opening act, an attitude that’s typical of crowds at big shows like this one. To be honest, I didn’t expect any great things from this band either, but to their credit they managed to get a positive reaction from the crowd and led by singer Joakim Brodén, they put on quite an entertaining show. Their cheesy, over-the-top style of musicianship was easily accessible and enjoyable for most people in the crowd. Despite being from Sweden they’ve largely managed to stay away from the typical viking metal sound and what they bring is more along the lines of ‘arena metal’. It was also a treat to see Snowy Shaw play drums with them, and besides Joakim the rest of the band did a great job with their instruments and stage presence. Joakim endeared the crowd with his monologues between songs and handled himself brilliantly, even bringing out a kid from the first row onto the stage at one point. All in all, an impressive set by Sabaton.

Set List:
1. Ghost Division
2. Carolus Rex
3. Gott Mitt Uns
4. Swedish Pagans
5. The Art of War
6. Primo Victoria
7. Metal Crüe

‘Roll it dude, we’ve got to go on or we’d be cutting songs!’ yelled Testament frontman Chuck Billy on the mic even before the band appeared as he instructed the mixing board to start the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ intro tape immediately, with Testament already 5 minutes past their scheduled start time of 5:15. The tape rolled and the Bay Area quintet took the stage with the song ‘Rise Up’ from their latest studio thrashterpiece Dark Roots Of Earth. They’ve been great each time I’ve seen them in the past and I have no idea what a ‘bad Testament show’ is like, because I’ve simply never seen one. Well, the short duration of yesterday’s set was a definite negative but performance-wise Testament were top notch yet again as they thrashed up this main stage crowd with some solid selections like ‘The New Order’, ‘Practice What You Preach’, ‘Into The Pit’ and ‘D.N.R’. Chuck Billy was sounding fantastic and flawless on the vocals, Alex Skolnick’s solos were sweet, crisp and loud, Hoglan’s drums were ear-piercing, multiple mosh pits were breaking out, heads were banging, and the smell of marijuana engulfed the air. The atmosphere was awesome, and too bad Testament didn’t go on for longer. But I’m sure they will be back around these parts soon, and I’ll say this again because I can’t say it enough: the resurrection of Testament in 2008 and their subsequent transformation into a heavily touring band that’s still putting out great albums is one of the best things to have happened to the metal genre in recent times.

Set List:
The Star-Spangled Banner (intro)
1. Rise Up
2. The New Order
3. Practice What You Preach
4. Into the Pit
5. Native Blood
6. D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)
7. 3 Days in Darkness

Testament photo gallery (by Carsten Steinhausen):

Testament ended their set on time and had to cut it short at least by one song as a result, but Anthrax were still running behind their own scheduled start of 6:20. It was nearly 6:30 when the ‘Worship’ intro began playing on the PA. The band took their positions on stage and jumped straight into ‘Caught In A Mosh’. It was the perfect start to what turned out to be an absolutely amazing performance. During the last couple of years, I’ve maintained the opinion that in a live setting, Anthrax is the best of the so-called Big Four bands, and this set of theirs strongly vindicated my opinion. They were the best support act at this show, and aside from the headliner, obviously, they were the only band to get the entire crowd on their side, singing along to their classic tunes. Their on-stage energy was truly infectious and rapidly bled into all sections of the crowd. Heads were banging, metal horns were raised high and the singing voices were loud, all the way from the front of the GA pit to the back of the lawn. The renditions of all the old classics was excellent, but the start of the ‘In The End’ song, dedicated to Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag Darrell, the sound of bells combined with the sight of everyone’s horns raised high, that was the most spine-chilling moment of the set. Following that was a thoroughly enjoyable cover of AC/DC’s ‘T.N.T.’ and the crowd went completely nuts. They ended with ‘I Am The Law’ and ‘Antisocial’ and with it brought an end to the epic ‘Worship Music’ touring cycle as Scott Ian held his son in his lap while he announced that Worship Music was released exactly two years ago, that this was the 207th and last show of the album’s cycle, and that Anthrax will be back with a new album and tour next summer. Like Testament, their 6-song set seemed short as well but they were the best support act of the day nonetheless.

Set List:
Worship (intro)
1. Caught in a Mosh
2. Indians
Hymn 1
3. In the End
4. T.N.T. (AC/DC cover)
5. I Am the Law
6. Antisocial

Anthrax photo gallery (by Carsten Steinhausen):

Promptly at 7:35, the backdrop screen and the two screens either side of Shawn Drover’s drumkit lit up as the initial segment of ‘Prince Of Darkness’ rang loud on the PA. Megadeth came out on stage amidst huge cheers and went into ‘Hangar 18′, kicking off an hour-long set that consisted of some of the best known songs in their catalog along with ‘Kingmaker’ from the latest album Super Collider. Granted, it was a very standard and generic selection of tunes by anyone’s standards, but the very same songs that I’ve seen multiples times in the past were hitting me as hard as ever yesterday and it could only be because the band was putting forth a really strong performance. Unlike Anthrax, Testament and the bands that played before them, what Megadeth brought to the table was a pure musical exhibition that was ‘thrashy’ enough for the thrash fans but a real treat for fans of technical guitar mastery. Mustaine and Broderick brought their A game and those riffs, solos and harmonies flowed smoothly through their guitars. Mustaine also spent a great amount of effort into the vocals, and it bore fruit as songs like ‘In My Darkest Hour’ and ‘Sweating Bullets’ sounded powerful. May be the fact that it was his birthday had something to do with it. He really seemed to be enjoying himself up on the stage. Ellefson and Drover were deadly consistent in the rhythm section, and together the quartet played a set worthy of their stature and reputation. They certainly beefed up the visuals and stage production as well, complete with Wayne’s World clips, and that helped their impact on the crowd. It would be great if they could change up the set a little next time, but if they continue sounding as strong as they did last night, they’ll always be a good live band.

Set List:
Prince of Darkness (intro)
1. Hangar 18
2. Wake Up Dead
3. In My Darkest Hour
4. Sweating Bullets
5. Kingmaker
6. Tornado of Souls
7. Symphony of Destruction
8. Peace Sells
9. Holy Wars… The Punishment Due
Silent Scorn (outro)

Megadeth photo gallery (by Carsten Steinhausen):

With all of that being said and done, the one band everyone here had come to see was about to go on, and the anticipation in the air was palpable. At 9:03, UFO’s ‘Doctor Doctor’ started playing on the PA, the now famous prelude to every Iron Maiden show, the song that tells everyone, ‘Iron Maiden is about to hit the stage!’. As always, the Maiden fans sung along to the lyrics of that ageless UFO classic. Following that, the lights went out, the giant screens either side of the stage lit up and visuals of massive snow-capped mountains and icebergs appeared on them. The snow melted away, symbolizing that the time was near for this crowd to see Maiden. Soon enough, the ‘Moonchild’ intro tape was played and then the band appeared on stage all together in one giant explosion, with a massive release of tension and energy from everyone in the crowd. Iron Maiden had arrived.

Iron Maiden - photo by Kaley Nelson

They belted out one classic after another, and even though it wasn’t an exact recreation of the 1988 ‘Maiden England’ tour, it was a stellar set list by all means and no Maiden fan could honestly be disappointed upon hearing songs such as these, specially the people who missed out on the Irvine shows last year (like yours truly). ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘Afraid To Shoot Strangers’ were, in my opinion, two of the biggest highlights of the set as those tunes really haven’t been staples in Maiden’s set in recent years. But the ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’ title track was undoubtedly the focal point, not only for the audience but for the band members themselves. Complete with one of the giant ‘Eddies’ seated behind Nicko McBrain’s drumkit for the entirety of the song, it was a whole experience in itself. But, just as the epic interlude in the song was about to end, some selfish prick decided to manufacture his own glorious moment as he jumped on stage. He effectively ruined the best moment of the song. Other than that, this Maiden performance was devoid of any flaws or any negatives I could pick out from a reviewer’s point of view.

Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson - photo by Carsten Steinhausen

Bruce Dickinson’s speeches were as entertaining and endearing as ever, and his Doyle hairstyle during 7th Son looked hilarious. I simply do not know of a better frontman in music at the moment. Bruce’s vocals only seem to get better with age, and that’s an astonishing thought in itself, considering the amount of high-octane legwork he does running and jumping around the gigantic Maiden stage while singing these songs. He has either stopped growing old or is aging backwards. The same can be said about his band mates as well, and the combination of these six utterly professional and consistent musicians is what makes Iron Maiden arguably the greatest heavy metal band on the planet. The pyrotechnics were used at opportune moments, the Eddies came out during ‘Run To The Hills’ and ‘Iron Maiden’, the lighting rig atop the stage was spectacular, and it all added to the Iron Maiden experience. To be honest, yes I could have done with at least one song from the Killers album and another from Piece Of Mind, but with the kind of catalog they have tucked under their belts, it’s impossible for them to please everyone no matter what set list they come up with. Regardless, one thing is certain: while bands in their age group are trying to cash in and live on past glory through anniversary tours, 3D movies, excessive brand merchandising and marketing gimmicks, Iron Maiden are staying true to their core and true to their fan base, continuing to deliver unbeatable, unadulterated rock shows like the one they did for the 30,000 fans in attendance here in San Bernardino last night. Whenever you indulge in a discussion about quality of live performances by rock and/or metal bands, know one thing: Iron Maiden is the gold standard.

(Video by Kaley Nelson. Check out her vimeo page here)

Set List:
1. Moonchild
2. Can I Play with Madness
3. The Prisoner
4. 2 Minutes to Midnight
5. Afraid to Shoot Strangers
6. The Trooper
7. The Number of the Beast
8. Phantom of the Opera
9. Run to the Hills
10.Wasted Years
11.Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
12.The Clairvoyant
13.Fear of the Dark
14.Iron Maiden
Encore
15.Aces High
16.The Evil That Men Do
17.Running Free

Overall, this was quite an epic and unforgettable day for all in attendance. It’s painful for most people to get out to that venue in San Bernardino, but it’s safe to say it was worth the effort this time. Aside from the second stage debacle, the ‘Battle Of San Bernardino’ as a novel concept was a raging success and since we in Los Angeles do not get major metal festivals other than the watered down mainstream drivel like Mayhem Fest and Uproar Fest, it would be amazing to make Battle Of San Bernardino an annual thing, with Iron Maiden headlining it every year. Whether or not that happens, this particular show will go down in history as one of the best LA has ever seen.

Iron Maiden photo gallery (by Carsten Steinhausen):

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