ROCK REVIEW / As easy as A-D-E: Bruce Dickinson - The Marquee, London

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The Independent Online
Emblazoned on Bruce Dickinson's chest, in letters a foot high, was the legend 'Balls'. It was a theme the former Iron Maiden vocalist was to return to again and again.

There were his shorts, for one - like cut-down black tights, which he appeared to be sharing with a couple of winter vegetables ('Are they real?'

someone asked. 'They're real,' said Bruce). Then there's his inter-song banter.

'There was a tramp on the street,' said Bruce, introducing the anthemic 'Hell, No'. 'And all he'd say to people were two words. That could've been me or you . . . So scream it from the bottom of your balls, 'Hell, No]' ' So we did.

Do-gooder. He wants to stop stage-diving, too - surely every tightly clad metal fan likes to throw themselves off the stage into the mob? 'When people try to break someone's neck, they should ask. Anybody who tries to get on this stage can go and get stuffed.' (Or words to that effect.) And how we cheered.

But it was 'Tears of the Dragon' that really lifted the leather crowd.

Dickinson strapped on a Telecaster for the gentle, flanged intro, and when, inevitably, it broke into overdrive, the great unwashed broke into a raised-arm jab, head-banging to the nodding-dog beat.

By the bass bins, it hurt. All hair and no hips, bassist Chris Dale is an axe-man in the Kate Moss mould. But his cranked-out progressions brought a perm-lifting wind from the speaker stacks: dum dum dum dum DER dum dum dum dum: as simple as A-D-E, and back to A again, while the lead guitar squealed around ineffectually on top.

Then it was back to basics. 'This is one from the Balls to Thingydoo (Balls to Picasso) album,' said Bruce, introducing 'Fire', as ploddingly heavy as three-day old soup, but which brought the best out of the guitarist, Alex Dickson. Taking time out to sip his pint, he returned to front of stage for a bluesy, string-skipping solo. But the subtler bits were there to make the heavy bits heavier (look, this volume control goes up to 11), and it was never long enough before bass and drums came stomping dully in.

Dickinson has a voice many metallers would kill for. Able deftly to cover the range from sub-Vincent Price bass through dirty laugh to Michael Bolton whinge, it played an integral role in the success of Iron Maiden's 'Number of the Beast' and 'Run to the Hills'.

And he's a good showman: the shorts were a gag; the T-shirt was a gag; and when, with the three-piece thrashing in the background, he came in-yer-face close to us and mouthed 'What the hell is going on?' (or words to that effect), that was a gag, too. But on a cramped stage, bereft of spectacular set and without the tightness of Maiden's guitar duo, he's mostly mouth. And no trousers.

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