Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Iron Maiden setlist reflects Youtube era

Iron Maiden’s been out on the road this summer, in advance of the release of their latest disc, “The Final Frontier,” due August 16.

I’ve certainly heard the buzz about the tour so far, and it’s not entirely good.

Here’s two reasons why: Maiden are only playing one track from the new record (“El Dorado”), and the setlist focuses on the band’s last three albums.

New material: In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, guitarist Janick Gers explains, “It's really important if you're going to remain a valid band that you play your new stuff. Otherwise you become a parody of what you started out doing. But it's impossible. Back in the early 80s you could probably do it, but now with YouTube and downloading, the songs would all be out before the album was out."

Here’s proof: “El Dorado,” as filmed by a fan on opening night…

Iron Maiden – El Dorado Center - Dallas, TX – June 9, 2010

Last month, Maiden offered a free download of “El Dorado” from the new disc, although singer Bruce Dickinson publicly dissed the sound quality of mp3s after the new track was released.

Gers’ comments reflect the nature of the digital age we live in: since pretty much everything can be filmed with handheld and/or pocket cameras, the impact of Youtube is massive.

In Maiden’s case, the concept of what Youtube represents is so big that it has impacted their setlist decisions.

Does it have to?

There will always be exceptions, but let’s consider the inherent danger in some performers playing too much unknown material live: most people like to hear what they know, and new songs often become excuses/reasons for fans to hit the bar or washroom. Too much new and/or unheard music can really kill the momentum of a concert, and that may be a part of the reason Maiden have designed their setlist this summer with only one new track.

Many artists hit the road before new product is available and let the chips fall where they may when it comes to tapers. Are Maiden being too cautious here? It appears so, as the band probably would have only included 3-4 new tracks in the set, so really wouldn’t have been revealing much of the new disc, while providing fans with a ‘sneek peak’ of the new stuff.

On the other hand, if the band was as concerned about leaks as they seem to be, why didn’t they either move the release date up to coincide with the start of the tour – or simply not tour until the disc is out? If the release date couldn’t have been moved, and Maiden decided to wait until street date to tour, they would have missed the valuable summer season, and that’s not practical, for financial reasons. In fact, I’d suggest that the band will probably make more money this summer on the road than they’ll make from sales of the new record.

The bigger risk on the pre-release tour to the band is in disappointing fans who want to hear some new material alongside the classics, and that's not an easy balancing act when you have a catalogue the size of Maiden's. The typical 16-song set for this trek features only 5 classics, with one early in the show; beyond that, fans have to wait until the end to hear them, as one classic closes the regular set and 3 of them make up the encore.

Iron Maiden finished up the North American leg of “The Final Frontier Tour” (and should they really be calling it that if they’re only playing one song from it?) last night with a show in Washington, D.C.; they kick off the European Tour on July 30 in Dublin.

In the big picture, maybe this all doesn't mean so much: I would bet on Iron Maiden returning to the countries they're playing pre-release because once the new disc is out, it will need ongoing promotional support in the coming year.

Last week, Maiden released the video for the title track from the new disc.

Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier (Director’s Cut) (2010)