BLAZE BAYLEY AND HIS BAND PUT ON ONE OF THE BEST CONCERTS OF THE YEAR (SO FAR)
Date: August 19, 2017
Venue: The Rockpile
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
It’s funny how sometimes the concerts for which you have the least amount of expectations turn out to be the “can’t miss” shows of the year. I had wanted to see Blaze Bayley perform live for the last few years and back in 2014, I even bought his Alive In Poland CD to get myself more familiarized with his solo material in advance of his gig in Canada’s nation capital Ottawa back. Truth is I was really going to see the opening bands Shock and Rusted, both of whom I had recently seen (2013 and 2014 respectively), with Bayley being the bonus for the evening. As it turns out, I never made it to that show (with Ottawa being about five hours away from Toronto). Although I liked Alive In Poland, it did not really compel me to delve into Bayley‘s solo studio albums. I have always liked Bayley‘s voice going back to when I first heard of him as the new frontman for Iron Maiden. In fact, I consider The X Factor to be better than any of the last three Iron Maiden albums or in other words, better than any album that the mighty Maiden have come up with in the last 13 years.
Over the last couple of years, I have become more familiar with Bayley‘s recent solo material given that as the new Sleaze Roxx editor, I have posted various articles about the singer’s latest videos and album updates. Again, I always enjoyed whatever I heard but it was nothing to really compel me to purchase any of Bayley‘s solo albums. Funny enough, when I saw that Bayley was going to be coming to Canada once again, I planned on going to see him play at The Rockpile in Toronto. I almost didn’t make it because I later found out that one of my favorite bands — KISS, whom I have seen live at least ten times already — was going to be playing the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino in Niagara Falls, New York, USA. My plans to see Bayley suddenly changed and I contacted the casino to see if I could get a press pass. Apparently, KISS are in high demand as I was politely told that all the press passes had already been allotted. That brought me back to my original plan which was to catch Blaze Bayley‘s show in Toronto. I am really glad I did.
As I made my way to The Rockpile at around 9:50 pm or so (after putting the kids to bed), I noticed that there was a decent amount of cars in the parking lot but also knew that The Rockpile had started lending or renting its lot to a car rental company beside it so looks could be deceiving. I was disappointed with the turnout as I entered The Rockpile but as I learnt when Bayley addressed the crowd, this was the first time that Bayley was playing The Rockpile in Toronto. Bayley gave his witty rationale (he was told only the real metal heads showed up or something like that) on why the Toronto show had not sold out during his set.
As I entered The Rockpile, an opening act was unfortunately just finishing its set. The banner behind the band members stated Cadillac Blood who had a few very enthusiastic followers head banging away and essentially being really into the opening band’s set. I quite liked the last song that Cadillac Blood played so made a point of checking if they had any music for sale after Bayley‘s set was done. As I spoke to a friendly merchandise booth gentleman, I noticed that there were no songs listed for Cadillac Blood‘s CD. A band member (I believe singer Luke Morrell) then explained that unfortunately, Cadillac Blood had not received the CDs and t-shirts that they ordered in a timely manner so they apparently got some CDs together in any case to distribute to whomever might want one. A smart initiative from this new upcoming band. Of note, Bayley went out of his way to compliment Cadillac Blood calling them very professional and praising them for being ready on time, which is apparently something that Bayley sometimes has to contend with when dealing with various opening acts.
While the stage was getting prepared for Blaze Bayley and his band, I made my way to the front of the stage and secured a great spot from which to watch the concert. I took a sneak peak at the setlist posted on one of the speakers and recognized three Iron Maiden songs in the setlist from the one word description for each (“Virus” for “Virus”, “Clans” for “The Clansman” and “Flies” for “Lord Of The Flies”). That would mean that I only knew a handful of songs more from Bayley‘s repertoire on this night as i was only familiar with “Silicon Messiah” (“Silicon” on the setlist), “Calling You Home” (“Calling”) and “A Thousand Years” (“1000”). Nevertheless, I was still excited to see Bayley despite only recognizing six songs out of 15 on his setlist! By this time, there was a sizeable crowd in front of the stage ready to go. This was probably the earliest start for a headliner that I had ever seen at The Rockpile on a Saturday night as Bayley‘s band members — guitarist Chris Appleton, bassist Karl Schramm and drummer Martin McNee — made their way to the stage at around 10:30 pm (as advertised by Bayley himself). Before long, Bayley made his way on the stage to some loud cheers. He had a rather serious look to him as he started in front of McNee‘s drum set before moving quickly to the edge of the front of the stage (from his vantage point). Bayley moved so quickly that I suddenly found my camera — which had been resting on the stage (perhaps not the wisest move) but behind a speaker — on the ground. Luckily, it wasn’t much of a drop and everything seemed alright with my camera.
Bayley and his band were full of energy from the get go. Opening with two tracks from Bayley‘s latest studio album Endure And Survive, it was not until the third song that the audience seemed to really come alive. Iron Maiden‘s “Futureal” was next and had the crowd singing along throughout. Bayley followed that up with three more of his own songs including “Blood” and “Fight Back” from his latest studio album. I thought that both of those tracks sounded really good on a first listen and I made a mental note to buy whichever of Blaze‘s albums had those songs on it. Usually, just about every band thanks the crowd for coming to see the show but it felt like Bayley‘s “thank yous” were very genuine and more sincere than most of his peers’ comments. Bayley thanked just about everyone he could think of at The Rockpile to the opening band Cadillac Blood to of course the people in the audience. Bayley noted that he was completely independent and living his dream by (making a living composing and) performing his own songs in Canada, which is quite impressive in this day and age. The amount of touring that Bayley does is certainly impressive. Certainly not every singer could do what he’s doing but he seems to have such a strong voice to be able to handle the wear and tear of so many tour dates crammed in very short time spans. For instance, Bayley‘s Toronto stop was his fifth night in a row and he still had two more shows to play in the next two days.
Obviously, Bayley is proud of his work in Iron Maiden, which pretty much put him on the map so to speak and which notoriety will likely allow him to continue performing live and releasing albums as a solo performer for the rest of his career. Bayley introduced the next song “Virus” as possibly the best song from his time in Iron Maiden. You could tell that he really liked singing it. One thing that Bayley was very good at doing was engaging the crowd as he repeatedly got the audience to pump their fists in the air, scream “hey” when prompted and sing along whenever possible. There were a lot of instances during songs where Bayley incorporated these “hey” chants or sing along moments that you would not find for those tracks on a studio album. In other words, Bayley was very good at engaging the audience with each song played. Next up was “Calling You Home” from the 2016 released Infinite Entanglement album, which was one of the Bayley solo songs that I was already somewhat familiar with. “Stare At The Sun” was next from Bayley‘s debut solo album Silicon Messiah released back in 2000.
The concert went up a notch when Bayley and his band launched into Iron Maiden‘s “The Clansman” which I think is the best Maiden song of the Bayley era. It was cool to hear the crowd screaming “Freedom” during the song and seemed appropriate with what is going on in the United States of America and the world in general. I just know I’ll be revisiting the Virtual XI album this week! The most surprising part of the concert was next. Bayley introduced the Wolfsbane song “Man Hunt” by stating how all the group wanted back in the day was to be the best band in town, and before long, it achieved that, before becoming the biggest band in Birmingham, and before going to Los Angeles to record their debut album in a world famous studio. Bayley joked that the cheesiest lyrics ever were sung at that studio in the form of the lyrics for “Man Hunt.” The funnest part of the song was seeing Bayley trying to playfully and humorously jockey for the front of the stage position against guitarist Chris Appleton, and then against both Appleton and bassist Karl Schramm. Eventually, Bayley introduced his band members during the middle of the song including drummer Martin McNee while still incorporating some humour by looking repeatedly annoyed when McNee was purposely continuously drum soloing before Bayley could introduce the next band member.
Speaking of Bayley‘s backing band, they were all really really good and top notch professional musicians. The trio form three fourths of the group Absolva, which explains why they were so tight playing together. It’s no small feat to handle Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris‘ bass parts and Schramm seemed to have no difficulties in doing so. Drummer Martin McNee provided an entertaining drum solo and threw in some humour at the same time. Guitarist Chris Appleton was simply a beast on the guitar. Man, that guy can really play!!! Seeing him play a good portions of his guitar solos right in front of me was a real treat and made me really appreciate just how good of a guitarist that he is. Appleton was also not shy in getting the crowd to engage. Seeing Appleton handle all the guitar parts on the five Maiden songs played on this night made me wonder whether Iron Maiden really needed three or even two guitarists in the band. Next up was another favorite of mine from the Iron Maiden / Bayley era with “Man On The Edge” which had the crowd singing along once again.
If I recall correctly, the set closer “Dark Energy 256” was one of the heaviest and fastest songs of the night. Rather than exiting the stage, Bayley and his band stayed on stage and pretty quickly played the encores for the night — a blistering version of Iron Maiden‘s “Lord Of The Flies” and perhaps the best Bayley solo song that I have ever heard — “A Thousand Years.” I really liked that Bayley told the crowd that every CD and/or t-shirt bought by fans helps him pay his rent and that he reinvests whatever he gets into making his next album. Bayley also told the crowd that he would be available for a free “meet and greet” with whomever wanted to meet him after the show. He described it as more of a “thank you” from him rather than a “meet and greet.” Former White Lion frontman Mike Tramp had done the same thing when he played in Toronto back in 2015. While I do think it’s awesome for performers like Bayley and Tramp to do these “meet and greet” free of charge, it’s also a great way for them to move some merchandise at the end of their set! Anyways, there is nothing wrong with that and I wish more artists would be available to their fans like Bayley.
Funny enough, I didn’t think that I would enjoy Bayley‘s set as much as I did. Had I known just how good Bayley‘s set would be, I would have brought more money with me to purchase his CDs after the show. Long story short, I only had enough cash left on me to purchase one album so I had to choose between Infinite Entanglement or Endure And Survive. I ended up double-checking the songs on Infinite Entanglement and elected to purchase that CD given that it contained the set closer “A Thousand Years.” I was probably one of the only ones to purchase a CD without getting a photo with Bayley but I didn’t really want to wait in that long line-up for my turn to meet the singer. I’ve always hated line-ups!
As I was leaving The Rockpile, I thought that I had seen the best concert of the year to date and that’s even though I only knew a little over half of the songs from Bayley‘s setlist going into the concert. It was definitely better than the Iron Maiden concert that I had recently seen at the Budweiser Stage or the Metallica concert that I had seen at the Rogers Centre. I’ll take a great performance in a small bar setting with 100 or so people any day over seeing a concert from one of the bigger bands with over 10,000 screaming fans (or in the case of Metallica, about 50,000 fans). As I started to write this review however, I remembered the fantastic Dirkschneider concert that I had seen at the start of the year in early January. Given that I was way more familiar with Dirkschneider‘s Accept material than Bayley’s solo material, I’m going to give the best concert of this year so far to Dirkschneider but Bayley is at #2.
Blaze Bayley’s setlist:
01. Endure And Survive
02. Escape Velocity
03. Futureal (Iron Maiden song)
05. Silicon Messiah
06. Fight Back
07. Virus (Iron Maiden song)
08. Calling You Home
09. Stare At The Sun
10. The Clansman (Iron Maiden song)
11. Man Hunt (Wolfsbane song)
12. Man On The Edge (Iron Maiden song)
13. Dark Energy 256
14. Lord Of The Flies (Iron Maiden song)
15. A Thousand Years