August 2011. I had recently made a pilgrimage to Germany, one that would end up being a life-changing move: I met my wonderful wife, cemented a lifetime of amazing friends, had my eyes opened to European culture, the whole nine yards.
After spending the first 3 months in Berlin, I finally arrived to my destination city that would become my home for the next two years: Düsseldorf, Germany. I walked through the center heart of the city on that first afternoon to what is called the Altstadt. The Altstadt is over a mile stretch of bars, restaurant, clubs, food, you name it. It’s one of those places where no matter what night you go there, it always feels like Saturday night every time.
There were so many places that were just rocking, and what really stood out that first walk through was how loud bars on the Düsseldorf Altstadt crank their music. I mean CRANK THEIR MUSIC, probably to absolute maximum volume. What I took away from it is that it must be the patrons way to lure people in. I can say for myself that it worked, because the first time I ever walked through the center of the Altstadt I passed one place in particular that was playing “The Number Of The Beast” by Iron Maiden as loud as I had ever heard it in my life.
“Holy s*#t, that’s Maiden!” is what I said to Justin Ross and Margarita Richards, who were with me at the time. I could see on their faces they weren’t interested in venturing in. So unfortunately that day we did not.
I had been trying to get into Iron Maiden for several years at that point. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but for a South Dakota metal kid who grew up on the polished and menacing Metallica crunch it was always different when I tried Maiden. It’s not the same kind of catchy. It’s something completely different.
Fast-forward 1.5 years. My family had flown in from South Dakota to visit, and we were having an epic time. My cousin Chris (our guest on TM Podcast #4) and I were walking through the Altstadt. We were taking it all in when lo and behold, the exact aforementioned place started cranking the hell out of the Iron Maiden track “Run To The Hills”. Chris and I wasted no time immediately entering this place where this sound was coming from. We entered without even thinking there was a choice. We belonged there.
Now if you’ve never heard “Run To The Hills”, it’s basically about the Native Americans trying to elude white settlers. I can heavily dive into this topic at another time, but what Iron Maiden has done in writing this epic song is hit on the head exactly what Native Americans went through at that time. They were escaping for safety by running to the hills, running for their lives.
Now inside the bar, Chris and I were completely blown away. Not just by the song, but by each and every person in this pub not saying a word other than screaming along to every lyric of Run To The Hills. We were sucked in, and embracing the sound along with them. Suddenly it made perfect sense to the Maidenth degree, the high-pitch octave vocals of Bruce Dickinson’s plea:
“RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN TOOOOOOOOOOO THAAAAAAAAA HIIIIIIIIIIIIIILS!!!”
I thought to myself with chills on the back of my neck: “Wow. Iron Maiden is loved in Deutschland.”
It was pretty epic. The entire bar was packed, and every single occupant lived and breathed and moved to every sound of Run To The Hills. I’m confident there were some in the bar that didn’t even speak English, but they knew every single word. It was intense, and people were fired up.
With that I completely understood the awesome power of the sound of Iron Maiden. The vocals never again sounded too high-pitched, the guitars never again didn’t sound polished. The songs never again weren’t anything but powerful. It was almost as if this song belonged in an opera, it’s that dynamic.
To paraphrase our dear friend Eddie Vedder:
“We were absolutely blown away by the power of the sound, and by those who were making it.”
Fast forward again a few years later to last summer, when Chris and I went to see Maiden in Philadelphia–thanks to a generous gift from my mother-in-law! To prepare for this show, Chris and I really took an ultimate deep-dive into Maiden’s entire catalog: which in itself is no small task. With a total of 16 studio albums, Maiden has created an unprecedented body of metal work. Chris especially embraced and studied each show of this tour, which supported Maiden’s newest release: “The Book Of Souls.” He knew Maidens current setlist on the tour inside and out and was as prepared as any proper chap could be for what we would be seeing at Wells Fargo Center that night.
The show was indeed a marvelous time, starting from a tailgate which featured eight and nine year olds playing a live metal set in the parking lot. (This is true, they were called ‘Mantis’ and they really crushed it: playing long metal anthems such as Maiden’s “Hallow Be Thy Name” to Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls”).
Once inside, sure enough it was the exact set that Chris had been preparing for. One thing that struck both of us was how much humor was involved among the members of the group. Chris had the perfect description when he said it was almost like a Monty Python sketch. They had fun, they rocked, they laughed, they posed, they waved Union Jack, and on several occasions Bruce pleaded to the Philadelphia audience with his signature phrase:
“SCREAM FOR ME, PHILADELPHIA!!!!!!”
We certainly did. I had the hoarse voice the next day to prove it.
It was as if those German comrades years before in that loud metal bar in the Düsseldorf Altstadt were right all along. I’m honored that Chris and I were lucky enough to get in on their treasured metal gift.
That moment we heard Run To The Hills in that bar was real, it was intense, and it stands out as one of the sentinel moments of my German and European experience. Sound silly? Maybe. But don’t tell that to those dear patrons in that bar. Or the hundred million Maiden fans around the globe.
UP THE IRONS!!