Gig review: Bruce Dickinson at Rock City

Words: Richard Wilkinson-Smith
Photos: Laura Patterson
Thursday 06 June 2024
reading time: min, words

The floors of Rock City took a beating as Iron Maiden front-man and rock legend Bruce Dickinson visited Nottingham to celebrate his new album, and prove that he's still at the top of his game...

Bruce Dickinson (23)

I cut it fine getting to Rock City tonight. No-one is around the main entrance apart from the staff when I arrive. So, once admitted (yes, there are question marks on my sanity sometimes...) I race alone up the famous stairs that I have bounced up a fair few times in the past. Entering the main hall, I can honestly say it is the busiest I have ever seen the venue, and it quickly dawns on me why it was so difficult getting even one place for tonight's show.

"Welcome home, it's been too long! We've missed you" bellows Bruce Dickinson in that distinctive howl, as his solo band kicks into gear, just as I push my way through the delightful scent of Brut aftershave and old beer (the aroma is not the kind you would smell at a Taylor Swift or The Wkend event, we'll put it that way). 

The beads of sweat pouring down the loyal faithful of Iron Maiden's iconic and enormous metal sound symbolise the blood, sweat of tears of a band who made it to the top by gigging, gigging, gigging: not a cheesy video on YouTube or TikTok or a million-dollar hype machine of today (although their imagery and presentation ended up becoming a million dollar industry). This is the main reason why, apart from his immense vocal styling and timbre, and colossal stage presence, that Mr D still commands sell-outs without his iconic musical counterparts alongside him.

"You're blocking my view," says a miffed 60-something lady behind me. I continue to edge forward and find an awkward spot next to the steps towards the main bar, and I use my mediocre calf strength on one of those steps so that I can just about see the stage.

Bruce is playing tonight in support of his strong new album The Mandrake Project, and Afterglow of Ragnarok with its recently uploaded spooky video, starts things off nicely for those who haven't yet been acquainted with it's doomy grandeur, backed up here by excellent drummer Dave Moreno showing off epic chops on the intro between some booming metal riffs.

"I am the truth that's playing hide and seek" our hero barks with an Ozzy-esque timbre. Many Doors To Hell meanwhile is a vampire-tale influenced killer that darkly and briskly skips along, with a great vocal hook. The new album's blood is sucked dry with the final piece Resurrection Men being the last one on show here, its country twang mixing with heavy rock to offer a more 70s-influenced feel, this time Bruce taking on the role of "the wizard of your heart".

The opening set concludes with a potent Tears of the Dragon from 1994's Balls to Picasso album, and there isn't much in tonight's set from before the mid-90s, where not only did Bruce survive the Ground Zero of Grunge, he thrived.

Bruce Dickinson (21)

The turn of the Millennium proved to be a high watermark for Bruce, with the Chemical Wedding album receiving some of his strongest reviews, and this passionate yet loose band tightens up for the title track and its swampy psychedelic guitars wash out into some heavy work by new European guitarists Chris Declerq and Philip Naslund letting rip: "Let it wither on the ground / Treat it like a plague you've found" ... bringing the song "in living colour now alive" in front of our very eyes.

Bassist Tanya O'Callaghan gets a huge cheer on the band introductions, as she's not only a great bassist and vocalist – she sometimes outshines her legendary employer especially on the ballady and slower moments – she looks like a goddess from one of Dickinson's songs; her bright dreads and lofty frame an imposing on-stage presence.

Meanwhile, the backdrop is a visual mix of epic visuals from Bruce's album artwork and gritty, onstage CCTV that emphasises the action and looks more contemporary.

Once a rock god, always a rock god.

Mr Dickinson doesn't seem too happy with Rock City's backstage area being "too small, so let's pretend that I was gone for a bit and then just came back on stage!" he jokes. Once a rock god, always a rock god.

And come back he does, with the band steamrolling through Navigate the Seas of the Sun. The 'encore' concludes with a gritty and fierce version of Book of Thel (and it is Black Sabbath-level heavy) and The Tower (both from the aforementioned Chemical Wedding record), with the band coming together as one pure, immovable object of heavy rock: Bruce pauses to throw his hat into the crowd, but unfortunately no-one in the mosh pit gets to it, as it's stuck high up in the Rock City lighting rig!

Oh well, maybe next time I will get there bright and early to catch the sweaty garment, unlike tonight. This gig, however, is a captivating performance that shows that even away from Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson remains completely at the top of his game, especially in the eyes of his adoring public. He did say when he announced his intention to tour in 2024 that his "only ambition is to grab a little bit of the audience's hearts every night". The well-worn floors of Rock City again took a well-beaten stomping, and he succeeded. 

Bruce Dickinson performed at Rock City on 23rd May 2024.

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