Thursday, June 20, 2024

Manchester screams for Bruce Dickinson once again

It’s been a very long time since Bruce Dickinson last put out any solo material or toured with anyone but Iron Maiden so this tour in support of The Mandrake Project was gearing up to be a very special event. There were many questions circling the venue as the seemingly endless queue snaked its way down Oxford Road; will he play any Maiden? What is his backing band like? Can he carry a show on his own? Of course he can, he’s Bruce f****** Dickinson, the man is a master of his craft and a natural born performer and this latest tour shows that he elevates the songs to legendary status and not the other way round. 

Black Trigger Smoke

Black Trigger Smoke opened the show and they gave a solid and energised performance but they were obviously mired by the Maiden curse. It wouldn’t matter how good they were, people were there for Bruce and that in itself is a massive hurdle to overcome. It’s difficult for a band to perform at their peak when the audience sees you as an obstacle but Black Trigger Smoke gave it their all. The well dressed New Zealand outfit lay waste with their collection of hard rock anthems like the supremely heavy ‘Way Down’ and the cold yet melodic ‘Blindfolds & Rattlesnakes’

Black Trigger Smoke

Shortly after, the legend himself took to the stage and it’s instantly clear that Bruce is a born performer regardless of how big the stage is. The man is in his 60s and he’s still racing around the stage with the energy of someone half his age. 

Bruce Dickinson is always a joy to watch and his solo material is seldom heard live so this was a rather special event. Some of his music can be difficult to sit through due to the incredible lengths and the progressive/psychedelic elements may be an acquired taste but there are more hits than misses at this show. This show features Dickinson at his Bruciest with a wealth of literary references and epic storytelling but it could be a rough sit for those who just want to hear ‘The Trooper’ again. 

Bruce Dickinson, The Mandrake Project

The backing band is incredibly tight and the guitar solos have enough of their own energy on tracks like ‘Abduction’ which also features a keytar solo, something that most metal bands wouldn’t dare incorporate after 1990. You can tell that Bruce has a great deal of camaraderie with his band as he mugs and dances around them with all the camp showmanship we’ve come to love him for. 

The Mandrake Project

Bruce’s latest album The Mandrake Project has received widespread acclaim and you can tell it’s a project Bruce is greatly passionate about. “This is not a song about the end of the world but what comes next…“ says Bruce as he introduces the ominous and apocalyptically heavy ‘Afterglow Of Ragnarok’. The whole album is full of spooky themes and horror imagery and he even invokes Black Sabbath on tracks like ‘Rain On The Graves’ and ‘Many Doors To Hell’ with its dark and brooding yet campy horror aesthetics. 

Bruce Dickinson, The Mandrake Project

A personal favourite of the setlist was ‘Resurrection Men,’ a stomping track that feels like it could have been a Megadeth track at one point. “I need to hear you to raise the fucking dead” screams Bruce as he continues to do laps around the stage, barely breaking a sweat despite wearing a hat and leather jacket inside the sweaty oven that is the Manchester Academy. 

Bruce Dickinson, The Mandrake Project

Practically every song on this setlist is around 6-8 minutes long and if you look at when these songs came out, you can trace how Bruce has evolved as a songwriter during the dark when he left Iron Maiden. ‘Chemical Wedding’ is a fairly dark record and has seemed to fall by the wayside over the years but hopefully this tour will see it receive more love. 

Bruce Dickinson, The Mandrake Project

The show seems to change in tone once the cover of ‘Frankenstein’ by The Edgar Winter Band is played, this song becomes a psychedelic jam between a group of brilliant musicians and even features a killer theremin solo from Bruce. The emphasis on progressive psychedelic elements may be a massive turn-off for those wanting more conventional songwriting but that’s not really Bruce’s thing. 

The clean spacey tones of ‘Navigate The Seas Of The Sun’ or ‘The Alchemist’ give a 70s progressive rock vibe that you’d hear from the likes of King Crimson or Yes, but don’t feel anywhere near as overblown or pompous as something like ‘Close To The Edge’. These tracks feel grandiose without resorting to 20-minute run times and instrumental tangents that don’t need to be there, they feel tight and well crafted but it’s understandable if you’d feel drained by the end of the show. 

Bruce Dickinson, The Mandrake Project

If there’s one thing that has always been well documented about Bruce Dickinson, it’s that he likes to read. Literary nerds across the world have found many references to classic literature throughout Iron Maiden’s career but Dickinson’s solo career is where he’s indulged in it the most. ‘The Gates Of Ulzen’ is based on the works of William Blake as is the sprawling epic of ‘The Gates of Thel,’ an 8-minute-long masterpiece that feels just as grandiose as any Maiden work with the added benefit of being much much heavier. 

Bruce’s stage presence has been studied by other frontmen for decades. He really offers a masterclass in how to control the audience and stay engaging, through massive stretches that could otherwise be difficult to keep attention. He even managed to squeeze in his classic iconic catchphrase “Scream for me Manchester” which has never failed to invoke a massive reaction from wherever he is in the world. 

Bruce Dickinson, The Mandrake Project
Bruce Dickinson, The Mandrake Project
Lamestream Lydia
Lamestream Lydia
Self-proclaimed journalist, Progressive rock enthusiast and the most American sounding person you're ever likely to meet in the North of England

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