This is where it all started, my first concert at a time when attending concerts by international artists was unknown of, at least in the remote part of India called the Northeast that I am from. I had already grown into an avid music-lover by then, and especially of Western music, thanks to my dad! But back then even for someone so deeply immersed in it like me, music was still something you listen to by playing audio cassettes in tape recorders or as MP3s on your desktops with 5.1 speaker systems (if you were blessed, that is). Concerts, or rather single song clips of it, were music videos watched on MTV or bought on DVDs and shared among friends; nonetheless they were so enthralling, those crazy crowds in unbelievably huge arenas head-banging to incredible performances by the gods of heavy metal, or intimate unplugged performances in front of politely applauding crowds by the legends of vintage rock! And all these on the screen of a TV or monitor, projected from a different, alien, unreachable world where people are privileged to be living the unattainable dreams of millions others like us. To be able to be part of such an experience was so unimaginable that I didn’t even think of envying them!
And then Iron Maiden, one of the Trinity of Hard Rock (in my books, other two being Metallica and Megadeth) decided to bless us with their presence in Bangalore, India. The unimaginable just became excitingly possible and due to the same reason, equally heart-wrenching! The excuse of the impossible is a great tranquilizer to the pain of unattained dreams, but when that suddenly becomes possible (though still highly improbable due to circumstances), what do you do, how do you silence the grumbles of yearning, the revolt of possibilities, the call of destiny? I was in the 3rd year of my engineering in a government college in Guwahati, Assam, living in a college hostel/fraternity and on a monthly allowance of Rs. 1000 (~$25) from my parents. And the tickets themselves started from Rs. 900. That was the first and biggest problem. Secondly, Bangalore was a 3-day one-way train ride across India from Guwahati and I would have to make that journey alone. Thirdly, my classes were in full swing and neither my professors nor my parents would be too enthused with my tryst with destiny! So the only way I could make this happen was to feign sickness, hop on a train, travel 3 days to get into Bangalore the day before the concert (the risk of day-long train delays was very real), watch the concert and hop back on a 3-day train ride back to Guwahati and on to such mundane things like classes and studies! The only good news was that I had a very close friend, Tony, in Bangalore who was also looking forward to the concert and egging me to take the leap, so I could crash at his place and we could attend it together which would be much more fun than being all alone among very drunk-and-stoned-metalheads-from-all-around-India!
But all these would come to naught if Money – the first problem – was not solved! And then God thought, let me humor this guy! A yearly “College Week” event organized by the college administration was underway at that time and that meant cultural, sports and other competitive events between the different hostels and students, which also included a quiz competition. I had been a voracious quizzer previously but hostel-life had spoilt me. Nevertheless I used to represent the hostel every year at this event, which this year had a healthy prize of Rs. 5000/- (~$100) for the winners so that meant Rs. 2500/- each! Let’s just say I suddenly found a purpose in life, went on a roll, won the quiz with my even-more-brilliant team-mate, hopped on a bus to the train station right after, bought train tickets to Bangalore and called up Tony and gave him the green light to snap the cheapest tickets before they run out! And then I came back to hostel and got drunk with my friends to celebrate!
Fast-forward a few weeks, I landed or rather disembarked in Bangalore safely and finally the day of the concert arrived! Another friend, Sush, had decided to join us from Chennai which was an 8-hr train ride away and as we stepped into the hallowed Palace Grounds amidst the sea of concert-starved-but-now-stoked mob sporting the customary black t-shirts with Iron Maiden in different forms and albums (and some other bands too), I remember feeling that peculiar heady concoction of exhilaration, anticipation and intoxication (you were supposed to hit the grounds drunk and we all were though it was just around 3 PM!) We three felt like brave pioneers, bursting into a historic event as we finally cleared the very long security check and got our first glimpse of how a concert looks like. I would be lying if I say I remember all the details of this experience from 9 years ago, and unfortunately I do not have any pictures from that era either to jog my memory. But what I do remember was that we waited for many hours for Iron Maiden to get on stage during which other opening bands played and we drank and smoked and yelled. Somewhere along the way we met other friends and acquaintances and smoked and drank some more. But as night drew on and Iron Maiden was about to start it was soon every man (and woman) for themselves. Our Rs. 900 tickets – which were the cheapest – only afforded us the last section of this open air venue and there were police-manned metal barricades that separated us from the more elite section who payed Rs. 1500 for a closer view. As Iron Maiden got on stage and started playing the crowd went into a frenzy and the pushing and shoving and fighting started to just get to the front line of our section (the metal barricades). By the time we had fought our way to around that point, we had already lost our third friend and we just prayed she is safe somewhere (later we found she had hung back with some common friends seeing how unruly the crowd was getting). But for Tony and me the frontline was a whole different battle, people jostling, punching, pushing, trying to break the barricades down. Many jumped the barricades at the right moment as the guards passed their area and they got promoted to the Rs. 1500 section for their adventures, while the unfortunate ones got some solid whacks on their asses from the police! We were still mulling on if we should take the risk when the unthinkable happened; in one mighty push of the mob, the metal barricades (which was actually cemented into the concrete floor) came down and in that moment of chaos when the police were overwhelmed, we jumped away to freedom and into the privileged classes! And good thing we didn’t dither in doing it as the police started “lathi-charging” everyone back there but we were safe. During the surge I lost my friend in the ensuing chaos and didn’t meet him again until after the concert had ended. But that was fine, we were all there to witness Iron Maiden and we had already got much more than we paid for! The rest of the concert went in a head-banging mania among strangers in a weird kind of bonhomie as we were all fans and in it together. They played the classics like The Trooper, Fear of the Dark, 2 Mins to Midnight and Hallowed be Thy Name as well as some from the new album A Matter of Life and Death which I hadn’t really listened to yet but it didn’t matter as we were there to headbang to Maiden and headbang we did! And for the first time I experienced euphoria and exhilaration and was able to distinguish it from everyday happiness or joy, and I guess that’s when I caught this bug that has become such a big part of my life and who I want to be and increasingly, am.
- Concert#: 1
- Season: 2007-2011
- Date: 17-March-2007
- Band/Artist: Iron Maiden
- Tour Name: A Matter of the Beast / Eddfest
- Opening acts: Don’t remember
- Venue: Palace Grounds
- City: Bangalore, India
- Setlist: Iron Maiden @Palace Grounds, Bangalore, India – 17 Mar ’07
- Fun Fact: 1st concert ever, gatecrashed, pandemonium, total chaos, not fun but fucking awesome!
- My Concert Quotient: 5/5