Entries in Iron Maiden (4)


Kudos to Calgary: Iron Maiden at the Saddledome

We just got back yesterday from our road trip through the national parks of Alberta (BanffJasper) and northern Montana (Glacier). Most of the trip was spent as a family, appreciating the natural wonders, disconnected from technology and population. The trip, though, was really built around last Thursday's Iron Maiden concert at the Saddledome in Calgary.

Wow, I've gotta give credit to the people of Calgary. They know how to put on (and how to attend) a metal show. The lines for food and T-shirts were long, but everyone was in good spirits. I think a lot of us got a kick out of the special-issue Canada 2012 T-shirt showing Eddie as The Trooper riding on a moose from hell. Three of the Hearst-Reynolds clan got shirts, and two of those were the "moose from hell". It just felt right to celebrate Canada's contribution to the show and looking around the arena between acts, I suspect they sold a lot of that particular shirt.

Coheed & Cambria put on a a great set, albeit it short. I've seen them at a festival (Shoreline Amphiteatre and I've seen them headline (The Warfield) and I know they can rule the stage when it's appropriate. In this case, they played the support role well, keeping things short and sweet and getting the crowd amped up for Maiden. I enjoyed hearing their take on Sabbath's "Heaven & Hell", a great match for Claudio Sanchez' voice and the bands eclectic musical approach.

By the time Iron Maiden hit the stage, the Saddledome was packed. That's a good thing because I'd hate any space in the arena to have been wasted. Bruce Dickinson was in true form, singing like a banshee and prowling the stage, egging us fans on to sing along whenever possible. The rest of the band was spot on, both polished and edgy. As always, I spent most of the show fascinated by Steve Harris and his unmistakeable bass techniques. He held my attention effectively, interrupted only by the massive pyrotechnics display, combining flames and fireworks at a level that would make Gene Simmons proud. My son, Zane's jaw dropped and eyes went wide open the first time the flames rose up behind Bruce on his over-drum kit walkway.
I think both kids especially liked the various mechanical and stilt/costume versions of Eddie that were integral to the progression of songs in "Maiden England 2012" set. The only failing for the massive stage production, in my opinion, was the placement of the drum kit. I only saw Nicko McBrain's human form twice during the set, once before the encore and once after the encore. Basically, the walkway for Bruce flanked the drum kit so closely and projected so far forwards and up that (from the midline of the arena where we were sitting) there was no way to see anything except the front of his kick drum and a few cymbals. Nicko is a machine behind the kit and it's a shame we couldn't see his work more closely.

What really struck me is what a great collection of fans shared the Saddledome with us that night. We were not the only full family at the show. We saw tons of parents with their kids; there was another mom/dad/daughter/son combo sitting right in the row in front of us. My wife, Nancy, also commented that there were quite a few women of all ages in the venue, and that's not necessarily the norm at a metal show. Everyone seemed happy to be there and no one seemed interested in fighting or showing how tough they are. We got a lot of smiles from other fans when they saw our two kids with us. Calgary knows how to rock and knows how to make guests welcome, providing a perfect introduction to arena concerts for our two kids.
The next morning, the first breakfast stop we could find on the route out of town was Denny's. For better, or for worse, you know what you're getting at Denny's, so we stopped off to get some food. The waitress brought me a left-behind copy of the Calgary Sun and I quickly stumbled onto a review of the previous night's show. I was a little wary, concerned that it'd end up like so many shows over the years where I had a blast and the "critic" shot holes through the whole thing. We were all pleased to know that the reporter, Gerry Krochak, did in fact attend the same show and was there with the same positive energy that I saw in all the other fans. Gerry's article really captures the mood and feel of the show.
It was a hell of night, and, by now, Maiden has finished up the Canadian leg of their tour. Still, there are still a bunch of U.S. tour dates left. If you've already got tickets, get ready and do not miss the show. If you don't have tickets, beg or borrow your way into a ticket (No, don't steal. That's just stupid - see Michael Todd). This is a "can't miss" tour for any respectable metalhead. Up the Irons!



Maiden Canada

I've mentioned previously that both of my kids are big metal fans and I've mentioned that Bozeman is a lousy place to keep up with metal tours. That's one of my bigger disappointments for all of us in Bozeman, and I'm sensitive to the fact that my kids will not be able to spend their teens hanging out at local all ages shows, checking out the bands like The Squares(Night) RangerMetallicaTestamentExodus and Y&T before they make it big. The first couple of years in Bozeman we just lumped it, streamed concert videos and complained a lot.

This year is different. I already wrote about our trip to Finland and Sweden, centered around seeing Amaranthe in Göteborg. For us serious metalheads, though, one show a summer really isn't enough and as a parent of two kids that love metal, there are certain experiences that it's essential I share with them. Thanks to Iron Maiden's North American Tour - 2012, our other big show for the summer was obvious. It wasn't a question of whether we'd go, just a question of where. The obvious choice is Salt Lake City in terms of a road trip, with Denver and Seattle being close seconds for short hop plane trips. But, for a summer trip and the chance to pass through Glacier National Park on the way, Calgary really was a no brainer.

Nancy and I think it's incredibly important to expose our kids to a variety of experiences. They have been to Yosemite, we make regular trips to Yellowstone and have a long list of national parks and monuments yet to visit. I have similar feelings about making sure they experience certain bands. Sadly, they will never get to see Queen but thanks to videos and documentaries, they've got a good understanding for how magical Queen's live performances were. On the metal side, there are only a few bands that sum up the genre as effectively as Iron Maiden. We're talking about a band that covers all the bases: a scary mascot, comic book like and bigger than life, fast tempos, soaring vocals, songs about stalkers, mythology and warfare. Plus, like Queen, they put on an amazing show.

Bruce Dickinson is a master of getting the crowd involved. Maiden shows involve every single audience member. Admittedly there are times that you simply can't hear Bruce, even when he is singing, because the crowd is singing so loudly. And, somehow, Iron Maiden manages to capture that energy across the entire globe. This isn't a national band, this is a global one. They've honed their chops and their show over decades and they're the perfect band to show our kids where metal came from and why it still lives on despite a complete lack of coverage in the mainstream press.

We've got about a week before the show, and less than that before the road trip begins. I can't wait to share an evening with my kids and enjoy one of the bands that really got me started on this crazy metal ride. I look forward to seeing the stage lights glowing in their eyes, and the periodic jaw-dropping looks of disbelief that I know will grace their faces that night. I want to see them as they watch Steve Harris' crazy dancing spider fingers. Maybe they will wonder, as I did, "How does he play all those great galloping bass lines like that." I've never quite figured it out, to this day.

It really just boils down to a show that can't be missed. Sometimes you just gotta make the effort and go out of your way for the sake of the experience and opportunity. We look forward to traveling through beautiful Alberta and sharing an evening in Calgary with our northern neighbors, enjoying one of the best metal bands ever. Hope to see some of you there!


Scattershock - A History: Part 1

Scattershock's roots go back many years ago to when Steve Rosenthal and I met during my Junior year in high school. Not long before, Ben Ulrich, a great friend and great drummer had decided to go in a different direction, leaving me with the makings of a band minus a drummer. Fortunately for me, chance occurrences aligned and I met Steve, a hard hitting drummer and huge fan of Phil RuddJohn Bonham and Keith Moon. Steve joined me, my sister, Leslie (on vocals) and Amir Zitro (on bass) in Saber, a heavy rock band that split time between covers and originals. We gigged at a few parties and booked our own show upstairs in the Oakland Auditorium ballroom, a show that had little audience but remains the biggest hall I've ever played. I still have the recording of that show stashed away somewhere, including some great stage banter. Our original songs were heavily influenced by Iron Maidenthe Scorpions, and Rainbow. In retrospect, that might be obvious to many of you considering such titles as "Crazed Marauder", "Beyond The Line" and "Unusually Strange".

At some point we discovered a British band that was calling themselves Saber (or maybe "Sabre") and decided to change our name to Onyx. Then Steve and I graduated from high school and, after a false start at UC Berkeley, I decided to attend G.I.T. in Hollywood for a year. During the two years after high school, including the year I was at G.I.T., the Saber/Onyx lineup remained the same but we changed the name to Exposé, got some professional publicity shots done and moved up a notch in the Bay Area club scene, playing the likes of the Chi Chi Club, La Peña and the Berkeley Square. It was during that time that I began my interest in recording, acquiring a Fostex 250 4-track recorder and using it to track various early compositions. Sometime during that period, Steve, Leslie and I did our first studio recording at Saver Sound in Oakland, recording a song that I'd written called "Can't You See".

Then I made a decision that marked the demise of Exposé and started a new path that would eventually merge back with Steve and lead to Scattershock. I chose to start my undergraduate studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. For my first year, I landed in the dorms, off campus in Williams Village. As luck would have it, I ended up with a room right next to Mike Levine, a bass player who had grown up in nearby Arvada. We very quickly realized how much overlap we had in musical interests, sharing bands like Van Halen, the Scorpions, and Iron Maiden. Mike had a close friend named Grant Bolinger, a great great guy and accomplished drummer, who finished off our rhythm section. Mike, Grant and I used to rehearse in Mike's basement, although on any given day that only lasted until Mike's dad opened the basement door, flicked the lights on and off a couple times and then as soon as we quieted down just enough, he'd yell "It's Over!!!".

During my second year at CU, Mike, Grant and I ended up renting a house in Boulder out near the Table Mesa Shopping Center. I had a big bedroom in the basement, adjacent to another big room we used for rehearsing and recording. I was still tracking to the Fostex 4-track, which was the heart of a couple really memorable recording sessions: a 4-song demo for a local band called "Toy" and our own "Billy and the Boingers" song, featuring Toy's lead vocalist, Ron Foxhoven, which we submitted to the Bloom County theme song competition. I also formed a cover band called "In Progress" with Grant and we played one very long and memorable gig at the Dark Horse in Boulder. It was a pretty busy year musically, but I had made the decision to return to Berkeley to finish my undergraduate studies, and figured that meant the end of my musical collaborations with Mike and Grant.

In my next article, I'll explain how my Boulder and Berkeley paths came back together, setting the stage for the eventual birth of Scattershock.


KGLT radio: biweekly routine of a late-night DJ

My life as a DJ started mostly on a whim. It just happened that I learned of KGLT's apprentice class about two weeks for the summer session started. The timing was perfect; there was no opportunity to think too hard before committing. Because of that, I really didn't have a motive or justification for becoming a DJ. It was a chance occurrence, an interesting opportunity that I couldn't pass up.

Looking back now, however, there are a few clear reasons that I continue to DJ at KGLT despite the hours of preparation and the late nights in the studio. To better express those benefits, I need to describe my biweekly routing as I prepare for and then deliver my show.

The cycle begins when I decide on a theme for the show. Sometimes that's easy, when my show is near Halloween or Christmas. Other times, I focus on favorite guitarists or bands that have influenced me. Some weeks I just decide to play whatever feels right. That said, in this article I want to describe an approach that has kept me going for months worth of shows. KGLT has their CDs and LPs filed in different categories, much like a public library. There's an impressive array of rock, jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, etc. There's also a small plastic bin for each style that houses the new releases. My category of choice is "Loud Rock" encompassing all sub genres of metal, plus some punk and heavier alternative bands. Although I have a good collection of music, KGLT's library includes a large number of bands and albums that I've never heard of. After the first few months when I was drawing mostly from my own collection, I reached a point where I needed to mix in a generous helping of new material. That's where my goal began...

I decided to make my way through every loud rock CD at KGLT and evaluate each one for use on my show. My goal was to accomplish that fairly quickly, making "Yay" or "Nay" decisions efficiently. That way I can evaluate enough albums in two weeks to prepare a show entirely out of KGLT material. The key step for me is spending 3-5 hours at KGLT previewing one CD after another. The first level of filtering is always easy. I'll listen to the beginning of a few songs, if any of them grab me, then I jump into the middle of a song, listen to some vocals and try to find a hook that gets my attention. The easy "Nay" decisions for me are songs that fail my "melodic" criterion. Generally that means musical forms with only guttural vocals (screams and growls) get nixed quickly, and that tends to remove about 50% of the albums I review with only a minute or two of review on each. Sometimes things bog down a bit, when I run across bands like In Flames, Amaranthe or the SLoT, where gutturals are used in combination with melodic vocals. I'm typically happy with a balanced approach of that sort, but quick scanning can sometimes give the wrong impression, since songs will often use gutturals at the beginning of a song and shift to melodies in the hook. Bands like that can often take more like 3-5 minutes. Melodic death metal can fool me in the opposite direction: the instrumental parts at the beginning of each song will sound great, sometimes reminiscent of heavier power metal bands, but when the guttural vocals kick in I realize the band is not in my wheelhouse.

Once a band or album makes it onto my "keeper" list, then it's a matter of picking a song. Sometimes I'll scan through the album in search of something that grabs me. Sometimes I'll look in iTunes for songs that have gotten a lot of listens or read through the band's Wikipedia entry to see if any songs played a key role in their success. Having picked one or a few potential songs, then I listen and pin down the song for my set. I keep track of band name, album, song title, track number and track duration in a form that I can quickly migrate into a spreadsheet.

After I've collected roughly enough songs for a full 3-hour show, I pull my data entries into a spreadsheet and start arranging my show. There are some restrictions that I need to factor into the playlist:

At the top of each hour, we have to announce the station ID and thank that hour's underwriters
Two other times during the hour we need to make public service announcements (PSAs) and play promotional clips
Factoring all that in, I've found that around 2 hours and 42 minutes worth of songs is what I need for a full show, roughly 54 minutes for each hour. Using that knowledge, I start arrange the songs in an order that works for my mood, trying to create three clearly defined blocks of around 54 minutes each. Within those blocks I try to find three groupings of 3-5 songs each, such that I have a PSA/promo slot around 20-25 minutes after the hour and another one at 35-40 minutes after the hour. I add some additional annotations to the spreadsheet to make the breaks stand out and make it easy for me to find the song, whether it's on my own (burned) CD or on one of KGLT's CDs. If I'm bringing any material from my iTunes collection, I burn those songs to 2 sets of identical discs. That allows me to segue between songs, even if I decide at show time to reorder some songs or skip others.

Once I've prepared my playlist spreadsheet, burned any discs from my personal collection and collected any of my own CDs that I have readily available, then I set everything aside until its time for my show. Typically I reach the KGLT studio around 11:30pm. Most nights, Adam (Kish) is in the studio when I get there. Before I do anything else, I go through the new Loud Rock bin and the Loud Rock drawers, pulling any CDs I need for my show. I stack the CDs in the order I plan to play them, inserting my own CDs as needed. After that I chill for awhile and catch up with Adam. We often talk about metal, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, etc. It's always fun talking to someone else that loves heavy music, has eclectic taste and likes talking about it.

Then, somewhere around 11:55pm, Adam starts playing his last song of the night. He clears out his gear and CDs and he submits his playlist (more on that shortly). Then I move my stuff into place, near the 3 CD players and the console. I fill out some paperwork needed from all DJs as part of having a show at KGLT and put the first two CDs I plan to play in the empty players (Adam's last song is typically in one of the players). I get the songs queued up, so that I'm ready to go. Usually Adam's last song ends right around the top of the hour and I'm on my way.

In the last minute before my show, I switch to headphones and activate the mic but leave it potted down (i.e. the gain is all the way off). I also bring up the level on the channel for my first song, usually around -5 dB on the board. Then, just as Adam's song is dying away I bring up the mic gain, read off the station ID, announce the weekend weather and thank the underwriters. The weather information is available on the main screen of the in-studio computer (a Windows PC); the underwriter info is displayed on the side screen of the same computer. At the end of my announcements I hit the play button on the console and start the music.

The console makes it easy to listen to the beginning of each song prior to playing it, using the Cue channel. So, as one song is playing, I'm listening to the next one and deciding whether a slow crossover fade is in order or the next song needs to kick off on a dime. I segue my way through the first block of 3-5 songs, while taking care of another KGLT DJ responsibility: entering band names, album names, song titles and "new or not?" into the playlist app on the studio PC. We need to track all the songs we play so that the radio station pays appropriate royalties. Those same playlists are also posted on KGLT's website. Then, as I'm playing the last song before a PSA break, I once again switch to headphones, get the mic ready and wait for the song to tail off. Then I read the PSAs, announce the last block's songs and fire off the next song.
The pattern repeats for my next block of songs, although perhaps this time I'll use prerecorded PSAs and promos, which are accessed on the studio PC. I still announce the prior block's songs myself and then kick of the last block of the hour, which takes me back to the top of the hour. At that point, my routine is very similar to the beginning of my show (station ID, announce underwriters) but I don't do the weather, and I do announce the songs from the previous block. That second hour and the third hour are very similar except as my show winds down after the third hour.

At the end of my show, no one else is coming in until 6am. As a result, less than a minute before my last song ends, I cue up SAM, the computerized DJ and crossfade at an opportune moment. SAM automatically cycles through songs, plays PSAs and promos, and carries over until the morning DJ comes in at 6am. SAM uses voice synthesis, and she sounds a little strange, but she does a good job filling time and she's happy to tell you that she plays "some smooth jazz". Once SAM is running, I refile all of the KGLT CDs I used. I also burn copies of my show to CD to take home (that way Nancy can hear my show without staying up). Then it's time to turn off all non-essential lights, back down the studio volume and the two other speaker systems in the facility, pack my bags and go home.

It's often tough to get to sleep after my show. I'm usually pretty amped. Often, as I'm trying to settle I start having ideas for my next show. And thus, the cycle repeats itself.