Concert Review: Bruce Dickinson at The Observatory

Concert Review: Bruce Dickinson at The Observatory
Credit: George Distler

It is axiomatic Bruce Dickinson is a heavy metal icon in every sense of the word. He rose to international stardom as vocalist of the legendary Iron Maiden but released several classic solo records and was involved with a litany of other projects including but not limited to commercial airline pilot, beer maker, author, speaker, and fencer. Due to his numerous commitments and interests, Dickinson had not toured in any capacity since 2002 or in the United States since 1997.

Dickinson’s most recent venture – The Mandrake Project (“TMP”) – is his first solo record in nineteen years but also a comic book series of the same name for which there will be several installments (Dickinson teased the possibility of another solo record to coincide with future comic releases). Dickinson wrote TMP with his longtime guitarist and producer Roy Z, though Z was unable to partake in the tour. However, Dickinson was joined by a talented group of musicians - guitarists Phillip Naslund and Chris Declercq, bassist Tanya O’Callaghan, drummer Dave Moreno, and keyboardist Mistheria – to form TMP.

During the vast majority of Dickinson’s career, he fronted Iron Maiden during arena, amphitheater, and stadium tours; the hugely successful band routinely played to 10,000+ fans, and often tens of thousands more at festivals around the world. To create a more intimate experience, Dickinson chose to launch his first tour in twenty-two years at The Observatory in Santa Ana, California, an approximately 1,200 capacity venue. The attendees of this sold-out event were well-aware they would witness a music titan in a club setting, an extraordinary experience.

Ventura CA’s Night Demon - a three-piece of vocalist/bassist Jarvis Leatherby, guitarist Brent Woodward, and drummer Brian Wilson opened for TMP. The band performed seven songs, opening with the 'Outsider' title track and closing with the eponymous track from their EP debut. Their distinctly classic metal vibe was an appropriate start to the festivities.

Dickinson opened his performance with the incredible “Accident of Birth”, the title track of his “rebirth” record. He followed 'Accident' with the thrilling 'Abduction' from Tyranny of Souls, an album for which Dickinson never toured after its 2005 release. Next, he went back to 1994’s Balls to Picasso’s 'Laughing in the Hiding Bush,' a mid-tempo cut that remained in his setlists during his solo career.

Credit: George Distler

TMP then moved to the first of four TMP songs, its first single 'Afterglow of Ragnarok', which provides ample opportunity for Dickinson to showcase his ageless voice. Dickinson then performed 'Chemical Wedding', the title track from one of the greatest heavy metal records in the pantheon of greats. The song induced chills, particularly when Dickinson sang “…and all the lighthouses, their beams converge to guide me home…” at the end of the second verse.

The band returned to Mandrake to perform 'Many Doors of Hell' before revisiting Picasso to play 'Tears of the Dragon,' Dickinson’s first solo epic. Suffice to say, the crowd passionately sang along with the chorus, renown for being one of his best vocal performances. Dickinson completed the TMP portion of the setlist with 'Resurrection Men' and 'Rain on the Graves', both of which were well-received.

TMP then covered 'Frankenstein' an instrumental by The Edgar Winter Group (with Dickinson performing on the congo drums) before seamlessly transitioning to 'Gods of War' from Picasso.

Before performing 'The Alchemist' from Chemical, Dickinson noted the song had not been performed live until 2024 but that it would likely remain a staple of his setlists going forward. The band’s performance of this gem of a song was inspirational. Dickinson closed the set with Accident’s 'Darkside of Aquarius', which drove the crowd to a frenzy.

TMP opened its encore with the live debut of 'Navigate the Seas of the Sun' from Tyranny, a heavily acoustic song that was a stark departure from the vast majority of the evening. Then, they performed the masterpiece 'Book of Thel', a fantastic track from Chemical and among the greatest in Dickinson’s seemingly endless catalog of rousing vocal performances. The epic set closed with 'The Tower', another Chemical powerhouse.

The evening was, in many ways, nothing short of surreal and magical. For many fans (including myself), it was the culmination of decades of anticipation to hear Chemical and Accident songs performed live. Attendees traveled from continents around the world to witness what was to be the first Dickinson live solo performance in more than two decades (before he performed two last-minute club shows at Whisky a Go-Go), a historic opportunity. I typically limit personal anecdotes in my writing, but this was inarguably the most anticipated concert event of my life and I have been fortunate to attend several hundred concerts across North America over my three decades as a passionate fan of live music.

TMP will embark on a world tour into summer 2024 and Dickinson promised more U.S. tour dates to support the Project in 2025. However, irrespective of what transpires, for those at The Observatory on this unforgettable evening, Dickinson’s April 15, 2024 performance was the epitome of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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