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Bruce Dickinson: Kentish Town O2 Forum live review

24th May 2024 Kentish Town Forum

Welcome home, it's been too long! Bruce takes the Mandrake Project on the road.

It's been 26 years since Bruce Dickinson set out on a solo tour and nineteen years since his last solo release. To be fair there's been plenty going on: fronting the biggest metal band on the planet, flying planes, brewing beer, beating cancer and recording albums with the aforementioned legendary rock band. After working with longtime collaborator, Roy Z and finally recording and releasing 'The Mandrake Project' earlier this year, the time was ripe to hit the road once more.

After performing around the world in huge arenas with Iron Maiden, being in bijoux venues that hold around 2000 people and seeing the whites of the crowd's eyes must be reminiscent of Maiden's early days, but is no doubt certainly a culture shock. The Forum is like a sweat box (somebody please get a GoFundMe page started to get them to invest in some ventilation), in the standing area fans are packed together tighter than a rush hour tube. With beer on the floor and the football-style chants of "ole, ole, ol, Brucee, Brucee", apart from the beefed-up sound system, light shows and LCD screen onstage, this is as roots as you are likely to get to see Dickinson.

'Accident of Birth' is the perfect opener, with the well-placed chorus  "Welcome home, it's been too long, we've missed you". One thing that is evident within the first few tracks is that this isn't going to be anything like a Maiden Show: The production and sound are heavier and more brutal - 'Laughing in the Hiding Bush' could almost veer into thrash or doom metal territory were it not for the soaring vocals offering some familiarity. 'Afterglow of Ragnarok' continues this heavier trend with the first song on the setlist from his new album.

Without the bonus of a large stage to run around it's a testament to Dickinson's skill as a showman that he can sure work up a crowd even without all the added theatrics. There's still plenty of interaction with the band and the audience, but there are also intimate moments for him to just stand and sing. Dickinson doesn't take a break off stage during instrumental sections, choosing to beat out a rhythm on the drums or bongos, or play a theremin during the trippy instrumental cover of 'Frankenstein.' Vocally he sounds on top form, better than I've heard him perform for a while. The small venue probably helps - there's only so much the sound guys can do when you're in a giant tent!

It's no real secret that Iron Maiden is Steve Harris' band, so seeing Dickinson being the captain of his ship is a site to behold. Unlike his day job, he's written all the material he performs and his passion for reconnecting with his creativity is almost liberating. The enthusiasm for these songs, new and old, is palpable for everyone in The Forum.

Dickinson's fascination with William Blake is brought out with a haunting and rousing version of 'Jerusalem'. 'The Alchemist', 'Tears of a Dragon' and 'Chemical Wedding' and closing epic 'The Tower' are also back catalogue highlights. Let's not forget the album that made this tour happen, the excellent 'The Mandrake Project'. Maiden fans may be disappointed that 'Eternity Has Failed' has been given the boot for these shows, but 'Ressurection Men' and 'Rain on the Graves' have been taken up by fans with zeal as replacement sing-alongs. With a huge focus on Maiden, it's easy to forget what a talented songwriter Dickinson is in his own right.

It's perhaps inevitable that he will return to the Maiden Mothership at some point, but for now, the fans and musicians are all enjoying dusting off these old songs and playing the hell out of the new ones. Dickinson comments 'with seven albums we could do four tours before you even get the same song twice". Never one to sit on his laurels, he even teased about the possibility of doing another album with the band and playing bigger venues next time. Just don't leave it another 26 years Bruce!


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