On an earlier evening in May, the Whisky-a-Go-Go buzzed with some of the most fiercely devoted fans I’ve ever seen at the venue. What appeared to be a modest following was actually a concentrated group of true die-hards ecstatic to catch a gig by the legendary vocalist, Blaze Bayley. Conversations overheard before the band took the stage all seemed to point toward a drunken consensus – the crowd was determined to take Blaze to the Rainbow after the gig and get completely wasted with him. Stories were told about past drives out of state and flights out of the country to witness his performances and spoken languages hinted how far many of those in attendance traveled for that very night (after all, these are Iron Maiden fans – a group that truly appreciates the value of a performance, and catching a set in a small club by the former singer of the group is no small event.) Eager chants of “BLAZE” grew to a venue wide roar the moment the man of the evening peered down at the crowd from atop the balcony and signaled the show was finally going to begin.
The occasionally overpowering light show at the Whiskey was absent the moment Bayley took the stage. The band opted for static, lightly tinted hues which created an atmosphere of a stripped down performance free of cheap gimmicks and tricks; this was a band entirely devoted to performing at full capacity and without a doubt they delivered on those intentions. A complete, scorching set ranging from Bayley’s richly textured solo material and BLAZE era work was mixed flawlessly with classics from his run with Maiden. A guest appearance by Neil Turbin (the original singer of Anthrax) came as a sweet surprise during Man on the Edge (it’s worth pointing out: I never thought I’d witness/be able to pit to this song or Futureal post Bayley’s departure from the group.) The energy of the performance combined with the intimacy of the setting and devotion of everyone in attendance had me convinced I was participating in a stadium sized gig. This was the feeling that made me love this material as a kid, just refined and expanded upon in a way that only years of practice and experience could do.
I’m guilty of being one of those people that hasn’t seen Blaze perform since his days in Maiden (1996, to be exact) and it’s clear today my missed opportunities have been mistakes. Somewhere near the end of the set Blaze took a moment to speak frankly with the audience about a question he always receives: fans asking where he’s been for the past 20 years. Quick to respond, he laid out a brief history of his discography of solo (and Wolfsbane) material reaching into double digits – almost entirely produced and released independently. The X Factor and Virtual XI are crucial Maiden records showcasing a band flexing their songwriting and technical abilities with a fresh voice and lyricist capable of a vocal range previously unfamiliar to them, but the range of solo works (especially the Infinite Entanglement trilogy) reveal what his voice is truly capable of and how much he’s grown as an artist. For anyone blindly overlooking this material I can’t recommend a reevaluation strongly enough. Hopefully the recently announced run of festival appearances devoted entirely to his Maiden era tracks will reignite the spotlight his oeuvre deserves.
Words and Photos by: Dillon Vaughn