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Branded for Life

After coming back from DC, I had a completley different dinosaur act experience, catching Iron Maiden in the very last sweltering row of Madison Square Garden.  Where the Unrest show was a slightly tentative affair at a small, homey club, Maiden in MSG was about as shamelessly big business as rock can get.

But that’s sort of appropriate for Maiden.  I first got into them back in 1986, as I was starting junior high.  But it wasn’t their music that sold me, or at least it wasn’t entirely the music.  Instead, it was the time-traveling, protean, undead mascot of the band, Eddie the Head, that appealed to my geeky, tweenage self.

I didn’t get it at the time, but it seems obvious to me that what I fell for was a sort of brand.  And it’s an enduring one.  I just now spent a good 20 minutes checking out the various t-shirts available at the band’s official shop, most of which are the outer space-themed tour shirts with artwork from their new album, “The Final Frontier.”  You see, like some sort of zombie Barbie for geeky boys, Eddie has a new outfit (and level of decomposition) for every album, be it the skeleton of a WWII RAF fighter pilot or a futuristic alien bounty hunter with just a trench coat over his bare sinews.  That combined with the band’s easy appropriation of Heinlein novels and other assorted nerd culture references in their lyrics, and you have a coherent brand identity that I still find hard to resist.

And aside from that the show was actually a blast.  The band seem to all genuinely enjoy playing for the fans, and Bruce Dickinson in particular still seemed as energetic, well-spoken and operatic as he always has.  And the fans ate it up.  In fact, the sold-out crowd (front row seats were selling for as much as 20 grand on StubHub) seemed to go just as crazy for the band’s more recent material as they did for the classics.  And when a giant alien animatronic Eddie came out to battle the band members before playing a few riffs of his own, the crowd was completely sold.

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