Bruce Dickinson / A Legendary Night At Swansea Arena

Apart from the Sunflower Jam and spoken word tours, the last time Bruce Dickinson stood on stage as a solo artist was December 8th, 1998, at the Astoria 2 in London (Source: Setlist FM). According to the same source, he has never performed in Wales as a solo artist and never in Swansea with Iron Maiden. So, when he announces a few songs into his set, “Swansea, it’s been too long,” one could argue that it’s been a bloody lifetime.

Bruce Dickinson

Swansea Arena, Swansea – 21 May 2024

Words And Photography: Paul Hutchings

But it’s not surprising that the healthy, if not quite sold-out, crowd greet the Iron Maiden frontman with the reaction one would expect. 

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

Having queued in a raging storm of biblical proportions featuring thunder, lightning, and torrential rains, which was unleashed in true Hell, fire and brimstone manner less than 30 minutes before doors opened, it was no wonder that those on the barrier were up for a good night.

And that’s exactly what they got. 

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

The introduction to the cult 1960s American Sci-Fi series The Invaders booms out of the speakers. William Woodson’s words “The Invaders, Alien beings from a dying planet …” may fly over the heads of a large percentage of the audience, but it’s a clever atmosphere builder.

Minutes later, the five members of Dickinson’s band head out, all beaming to the crowd as they launch into Accident Of Birth.

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

It’s a clever opening song, with plenty of opportunity for the crowd to singalong, easing Dickinson’s pipes into an almost two-hour set. Followed by Abduction, it’s the ideal opening one-two to raise the roof. Halfway through Abduction, it’s the moment some will have waited for as Bruce opens his arms and, for the first of many times over the evening, shouts, “Scream for me, Swansea!”

They do. No invitation needed. 

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

Not that Bruce’s voice needed any easing. This was possibly the best vocal performance I’ve seen and heard from the man since the 1980s. Clearly fully recovered from his vocal health issues that I felt blighted a couple of recent tours, he was imperious.

Picking a set list where he’s not permanently straining, allowing himself a lower and richer key works magnificently. He is on fire. 

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

What follows is a show that is branded in the memory for good. Seven of the tracks featured in that last show in 1998, such is their quality.

Thankfully, there’s nothing from his (arguably) weakest album, Tattooed Millionaire. We do get five gems from Chemical Wedding, arguably his best solo album, including The Book of Thel and The Tower, which form part of the spectacular encore.

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

Of course, this is the tour to promote The Mandrake Project, and four choice cuts from that release are included. There’s a strange, rambling story about female vampires before Many Roads To Hell, and despite the tenuous connection, this is one of the strongest songs of the night.

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

With Tanya O’Callaghan pulling the bass strings, linking in with drummer Dave Moreno, there’s a solidity here which provides the platform for guitarists Philip Nãslund and Chris Declerq space to cut loose with some sparkling lead work.

Alongside them, clutching his keytar and fighting a heavy cold, Mistheria, who, as Bruce notes, usually looks like death, but tonight is even visually closer to the grave.

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

You would be hard-pressed to notice any influenza symptoms, though, for his performance is as fluid and engaging as the rest of the band. 

The new material sounds great live, harder, and heavier, with Rain On The Graves and, of course, Afterglow Of Ragnarok now familiar staples. It’s Resurrection Men that is the star for me, though, with its brooding introduction, Western feel, steel guitar and moody mid-section all adding to the overall sense of grandiosity. 

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

Between songs, Bruce Dickinson is his usual chatty self, with several long stories scattered throughout the set. The set is fantastically paced, with Jerusalem, Tears Of A Dragon and first encore Navigate The Seas Of The Sun (with the lovely Flamenco flourish and O’Callaghan’s strong backing vocals), all placed to sensibly provide a little bit of respite.

Not that he needs it. Bruce rarely stops still, moving around throughout in typical style. We get him playing a small kit during Moreno’s solo, which falls out of the band’s cover of Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein, and he tackles the challenge of a theremin during The Book Of Thel with an ease that is almost obscene.

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

The lighting is minimal, with a screen at the back of the stage providing a visual backdrop which enhances but never distracts. This is a show picked to keep focus on the music, and we get that in spades.

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

There’s no filler, each track is full of teeth. From the drama of Chemical Wedding to the Darkside of Aquarius, this is Dickinson and five excellent musicians proving that he and they can still bring it.

By the time we get to the finale of The Tower, there is no one in the audience who can be unmoved. It’s an ideal up-tempo finish and sees the entire team receive a deserved ovation.

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

Kudos to Dickinson for travelling this far. Swansea isn’t well served for Metal gigs, so hopefully, this will be a catalyst for the future. 

Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk
Bruce Dickinson - Swansea Arena - 21 May 2024
Bruce Dickinson – Swansea Arena – 21 May 2024. Photo: Paul Hutchings/MetalTalk

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