Until last week, I'd most recently seen Iron Maiden—to me, the greatest heavy metal band of all time—perform 23 years ago in St. Louis, during their Somewhere On Tour. When the band revealed that the final date of its 2010 North American trek would take place in our nation's capital, though, I knew what had to be done: It was time to pack the car, load up my 10-year-old son, Gabriel, and ride into our destiny—Iron Maiden, live and in concert—together.
We arrived to our very own scene from Heavy Metal Parking Lot, complete with wasted Matthew McConaughey and Lindsay Lohan doppelgangers, full on beer cheer and zesty conversation. Gabriel and I forged ahead and took our seats in time for openers Dream Theater, just as a violent thunder squall erupted. Rain and wind drenched fans and whipped the video screens.
The storm passed, and the final rays of emerald twilight emerged from behind the clouds. UFO's "Doctor Doctor" blared out of the speakers, prompting Gabriel to ask who we were listening to. If we had any of their music, he insisted, he had to hear more. And then, suddenly, the time arrived for the boys from London's East End to set the stage alight.
It was like greeting a dear old friend you hadn't seen in decades. Maiden gave us the business, performing with energy and conviction and playing mostly songs from their last three albums. Guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers were on their game, their solos white-hot orange laser beams of shred-tastic lightning. Bruce Dickinson delivered between-song monologues about family and never surrendering in the war of life. He even offered an elegy to Ronnie James Dio.
The capacity audience was ecstatically enthralled, "big hits" or not. During longtime live staple "Fear of the Dark," the crowd's choral singing of the guitar melody threatened to drown out the band. It was a sight I'd watched rabid South American fans participate in on DVD, but now I was watching it live.
Father and son rocked furiously. I air-drummed to the apex of hysterical revelry. Gabriel screamed the words to the classics—"Wrathchild," "Running Free," "The Number of the Beast"—and deeper cuts likes "Ghost of the Navigator," "Blood Brothers" and even the new single, "El Dorado." On the ride home, he pondered the meaning of that tune.
"There are music fans," Dickinson had said. "There are heavy metal fans. Then there's you lot, the Iron Maiden fans!"
After the encore and the outro tape of Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" ended, Gabriel and I made our way through the rain-soaked, beery, exhausted fans. Gabriel told me it was possibly the greatest night of his life. I'd been waiting 10 years just for the mere possibility of experiencing Iron Maiden with him. Possibility had become reality, and reality was now history. And that history was magically beautiful.