Iron Maiden (photo: Joshua Huver)
On Tuesday, September 10, the world infamous English heavy metal band Iron Maiden crawled through hellfire to shake the Oracle Arena through its core.
Led by the trademark galloping of founding bassist and principal songwriter Steve Harris, Iron Maiden features a remarkably similar lineup to the band’s heyday throughout the 1980s. The triple guitar threat of Dave Murray’s inspired blues-rock legato sweeps, Adrian Smith’s choice melodic chord voicing and the largely improvised hard rock lead of Janick Gers come together for a cacophony of sound.
Drummer Nick McBrain is a monster on the drum kit. Relentless double-bass runs play off of Harris’ bass technique and forms a concrete base for the wave of guitars and the operatic wails of the legendary Bruce Dickinson on lead vocals and theatrics.
This tour has been dubbed The Legacy of the Beast Tour after the mobile role playing game and comic book the band released in 2016. Being a legacy tour, as Dickinson explained between songs, there will be no new Iron Maiden songs performed at any of the shows on this tour.
“But!” Dickinson roared, “That doesn’t mean you won’t be hearing new Iron Maiden soon.” An upcoming album would be significant in that it would be their 40th official album in 40 years and 17th studio release overall.
With that expectation, and the aid of a largely unwavering setlist from show to show, Maiden fans new and established were ready to rock. The opening act was an English melodic hard rock band called The Raven Age. Formed by Harris’ son George and Dan Wright.
One thing that really set the tone for me as I pulled into the Oracle parking lot, unfortunately missing most of The Raven Age’s set (save the last song which I definitely enjoyed – but I also heard it was by far the best one). But on my way in, from an adjacent lot, someone was lighting off fireworks. It felt like the romanticized concert days of past come alive.
I knew Maiden were all about shock rock and horror but I underestimated how theatrical the whole experience would be. Right from the beginning, the stage was covered in camouflage and Bruce Dickinson donned a WWII-era pilot’s suit. Meanwhile, an enormous Supermarine Spitfire replica with propeller and lights was suspended midair above the stage during the opening track “Aces High.”
The military and war time theme permeated the first third of the show. Spanning their 38-year legacy allows the band to carefully curate and craft a specific story line, and die-hard fans would have not been unaware. The air brigadier’s tale was followed by “Where Eagles Dare” — a song about a parachuting rescue raid and the nuclear war woes of “2 Minutes to Midnight” “Aces” and “Midnight” both appear as the first two tracks on the bands 5th album, 1984’s Powerslave, while “Eagles” was the first of several Piece of Mind tracks to appear.
Before launching into “The Clansman,” the fourth song and 20 minutes into the show, Dickinson addressed the crowd directly. He talked about how the song was about a true battle for freedom, originating from the middle ages in Scotland. Just before beginning the song, he said ” and if you’re tweeting about his song, make sure to spell it with a ‘C’.” Appearing on the 1998 album Virtual XI, the song was one of the last recorded with former lead vocalist Blaze Bayley.
The next two songs each appeared on 1983’s Piece of Mind, the band’s fourth record. “The Trooper” and “Revelations.” Between these tracks, the stage lights dropped and the war torn battle scenery — which had been changing every song while remaining on topic — shifted into the second movement. An incredibly ornate stained glass window was revealed, featuring Egyptian, French and other historically religious symbols as well as imagery from several of Iron Maiden’s albums. But during “The Trooper,” a 10-foot Eddie came out from backstage weilding a saber, goading Dickinson into battle before taking to it like an air guitar by the end of the song.
“For The greater Good of God” from 2006’s A Matter of Life and Death and “The Wicker Man” from 2000’s Brave New World followed next. About quarter to 10, halfway through the show, the band moved into “Sign of the Cross” from 1995’s The X Factor. A 10-minute epic that saw each guitarist take memorable solos, the song hadn’t been played since 2001. (It has been played every night this tour, though).
The third and final movement of the show, dealing with death by misadventure, begins with “The Flight of Icarus.” Another track from Piece of Mind, but one that hasn’t been played since the Somewhere on Tour dates from 1986. A giant inflated Icarus takes the place of the stained glass window, and by the end of the song deflates. Not because of the introduction of pyrotechnics, mind you. The pyro, if anything, serve as a foreshadowing to Icarus’ descent into hell and a confrontation with The Beast itself.
“Fear of the Dark” followed the descent of Icarus. Beginning as powerfully moving ballad that slowed the evening down for the first time proper, the mood quickly shifted. Appearing on the 1992 album of the same name, it was the last album recorded with Dickinson before he first split with the band. “The Number of The Beast” from the 1983 album of the same name came next, and a wall of pyromania along with it. The 13th and final song of the set, the band’s namesake “Iron Maiden” track featured the return of the 10 ft tall Eddie.
The band exited the stage to thunderous applause and returned shortly thereafter for a three song encore. “The Evil That Men Do” led into “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and the show ended with the ultimate “get the hell out of here song”: “Run to the Hills.”
Iron Maiden put on one of the greatest rock and roll shows I’ve ever seen. The dedication and skill to the musicianship, the quality and content of the lyrics meshing and ebbing with the tiniest details onstage and across their albums prove how much Iron Maiden love what they do, and nobody does it like Maiden.