Live Review: Bruce Dickinson – Manchester

Live: Bruce Dickinson

Live Review: Bruce Dickinson - Academy, Manchester
19th May 2024
Support: Black Smoke Trigger
Words: Dan Barnes
Photos: Tim Finch

It’s pretty much Iron Maiden shirts as far as the eye can see at the Academy tonight for the second bout of extra-band-curricula-activity in Manchester over the past twelve months. British Lion were in the Rebellion Bar the night before the mother band’s arena spectacular last June, and now Mr Dickinson takes to the stage as a solo artist for the first time in many a long year.

The Academy is rammed from an early hour and to pass the time Bruce has laid on Black Smoke Trigger, all the way from New Zealand as support. The Hard / Alternative Rockers from Napier have only been together since 2018 and have barely more than their Set It Off EP to their name, but they take the stage with the sort of confidence afforded to a band used to rubbing shoulders with rock royalty.

The crunchy riffs of The Way I’m Wired conjure some of Bruce’s solo sound, while Proof of Life arrives with a stomping introduction. There’s an impending album incoming from the band later in the year and lead single, The Way Down, offers an early glimpse into the band’s maturing creativit

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Blindfolds & Rattlesnakes tries a few “whoas” before they all get snaffled up later, Caught in the Undertow slow things with just the right amount of sleezy attitude, and Perfect Torture would have been a lighters in the air ballad at one time. The short set ends with K.M.T.L., which finds itself trapped between the 80s LA Strip and the Punk clubs of the 70s.

Black Smoke Trigger did exactly what they needed to do and would go down a storm at Stonedead; though a certain Mr Dickinson is on most of the minds here tonight, these Kiwis were a thoroughly entertaining time.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

I think it’s fair to say The Mandrake Project, Bruce Dickinson’s first solo album in nineteen years will be featuring fairly highly on the 2024 Albums of the Year come December; it is solidly a Bruce solo record and has enough whispers and suggestions of The Book of Souls to make it one of his better outings.

In front of a series of rear projections, Bruce opens the show with the title-track from Accident of Birth, with its massive introduction you can feel the vibrations running through the floor. Add to that the huge chorus and that unmistakeable voice and it’s already a great night.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Abduction and Laughing in the Hiding Bush come and go before the first newbie of the night is played: Afterglow of Ragnarok, which Bruce introduces as being about the impeding apocalypse. The lighting is blood red as images of a world in flames are cast onto the rear screen; New York and Paris as infernos.

The Chemical Wedding is one of the best Metal albums of the late-nineties – and certainly put Maiden’s lacklustre Virtual XI into perspective – and the early appearance of its title-tune was more than welcome, with the slow and steady progression of guitar, building an atmosphere. Second new tune of the night, Many Doors to Hell, is introduced by Bruce considering the limited career opportunities of Vampirism; Mr Dickinson’s admiration of the poet William Blake is widely known, and tonight’s version of Jerusalem was closer to the Blake-lyric than Chemical Wedding’s tune. The band incorporated many folky elements into the performance, lending it a timeless sound that out-Zeppelin Zeppelin.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Resurrection Men and Rain on the Graves came back-to-back, with Bruce stating the former to be the key to the Mandrake Project and the latter reflecting the Gothic elements of the evening, along with a poetically Romantic central image. As Rain ended drummer Dave Moreno clicked into a solo, which ended with a full-band jam of The Edgar Winter Group’s Frankenstein, seeing Bruce playing both additional percussion and on the theremin.

The Alchemist’s spacey riffs were followed by the epic bombast of Tears of a Dragon and voices were raised for the chorus as loud as anything Bruce has had sung back to him. The main set ends with Accident of Birth’s Darkside of Aquarius, which is introduced as being the flipside of the Hippy Dream.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

There’s a lot of love for the Academy from Mr D tonight and he introduces the first encore tune as being a “cosmic Romeo and Juliet”. As Navigate the Seas of the Sun unfurls images of the pillars of creation are cast against the rear screen, adding an even more to the epic nature of the song. Back to Blake for Book of Thel, which includes a “Scream for me, Manchester” and the whole show closes with The Chemical Wedding’s The Tower.

For this trek – and possibly more solo material in the future – Bruce has assembled a crack squad of musical talent from across the globe. There’s barely a mention of the day-job, though he does state Steve would be “chewing his arm off” after West Ham’s defeat to City across at Eastlands this afternoon, which is liberating as, with so much strong solo material, the urge to slot in a few Maiden classics would have been strong.

Given British Lion and now Bruce, are we to except Nicko and Sooty at the Deaf Institute before next summer? To be honest, I’d be up for seeing that. Especially if was even a fraction as good as this show.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Photo Credits: Tim Finch Photography

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