There are few musical acts that we can justly label as icons. Those given this elevated status, however, command a certain level of respect and admiration from their fans that few can really understand. This month, I was able to catch the Boston stops on the tours of two legendary acts, known to their fans as single-word entities: Maiden and Barbara.
On the day of the Iron Maiden show, a sea of black forms in front of Boston University’s Agganis Arena around five o’clock. The show won’t start for another two-and-a-half hours, but a small army of hardcore fans has decided to congregate along the sidewalk of Comm Ave., most likely to psych themselves up for the show by freaking out the normals walking home from class. Pretty much everyone’s wearing a T-shirt with Eddy, Maiden’s mascot, engaged in some overtly violent or gruesome act. And many of them look as though they could have run security at Altamont. It’s an intimidating sight, but I relax as I reassure myself we’re all there for the same reason, even if I’m wearing a collared shirt I bought from Old Navy that afternoon.
Inside, my section is already filled with guys who look like they’ve just stepped away from their booths at a hunting knife convention. The line for beer at an adjacent stand is at least 20 deep, and includes one young fellow in a giant paper mache skull. I start to wonder if they’ll card the masked man as people begin to approach him, posing for pictures. He’s like the macabre Mickey Mouse in the part of the Magic Kingdom you only see when you’re on LSD.
Two weeks later on a T to North Station, I am once again thrust into a universe in which I clearly don’t belong — a place where Barbara Streisand is queen and I can hope to be nothing more than a serf tending to her fiefdom. To my left is a group of women in flowery blouses, wearing fruity perfumes that instantly generate sense memories of great aunts I never had. They complain about the undercooked pasta they just ate, and later console another passenger who claims someone’s been stealing her Sunday newspaper. This is what the Olive Garden must be like.
When we arrive at the TD Banknorth Garden, I find myself caught in a massive throng of Brokaw’s “greatest generation.” There are wheelchairs, numerous canes, and even the occasional oxygen tank waiting in line for the loge escalator. I’m able to bypass most of the traffic by taking the stairs, which are, not surprisingly, empty, and reach the turnstiles where I present my ticket, shamefully. Just up ahead someone is being carted away on a stretcher, presumably OD’ing on a particularly generous dollop of Vicks Vap-o-Rub.
Perhaps even more frightening than the legions of geriatric couples, who are filling the Garden like zombies a la George Romero, are the lone middle-aged men wearing Babs T-shirts that haven’t fit since the release of Yentl. Her face is stretched over their guts and distorted in such a way as to resemble a newspaper photo’s impression in silly putty. Thank God there are signs posted around the concourse that assure me there’s a two-beer limit per customer at this show. The last thing I need is one of these guys blubbering on my shoulder during “Children Will Listen.”
Back at the Maiden show, Bullet for My Valentine — a British foursome whose claim to fame is inclusion on the soundtrack to Madden ’06 — is finishing up their opening set to the sounds of mild applause and a few drunken chants for the headliners. The lead singer name drops Maiden a few times during the set to get a rise from the crowd, even dedicating a tune to the legendary band, a lovely little ditty called “Suffocating Under Words of Sorrow.”
Streisand’s guests, international pop amalgam Il Divo, also take time out of their set to recognize and dedicate a song to their headliner. It’s Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” and the four-piece group, whose members are all from different countries, proceed to rob it of its meaning by turning it into a miniature Opening Ceremonies for an Olympics Boston didn’t know it was hosting. They introduce themselves, revealing their respective countries of origin, and complete the image of a U.N. security council comprised of the members of 98 Degrees. I look around to see if anyone has glaucoma medication I can use to make this stop.
After the support acts are through at both concerts, there is a tangible sense of anticipation in the air. Everyone’s been waiting months for this day to arrive. And when the headliners hit the stage, there’s an undeniable catharsis.
The members of Iron Maiden leap out onto a stage that is made up like a WWII-era bunker, and launch into the first track on their new album A Matter of Life and Death. It’s a song both simultaneously new and familiar and stirs the already anxious crowd into a frenzy. Everyone is instantly united in a communal headbang that feels more satisfying than a thousand lead pipe strikes to the bridge of Paris Hilton’s nose.