The sold out crowd roared with approval when the familiar sounds of UFO’s “Doctor Doctor” came through the PA. As the song ended, the lights dropped and singer Bruce Dickinson appeared on top of the Mayan-inspired stage, like a witch doctor presiding over his tribe. The show kicked off with “If Eternity Should Fail”, the opening track of their latest album “Book of Souls”. The sound mix was muddy and the subtleties of the music got lost, but the audience knew the material enough to still sing along. The sound mix would get a little better as the show went on but unfortunately never really reaching the clarity one could hope for.
The band’s trio of guitarists wowed the crowd with their precise harmonies and distinctive solo styles: Adrian Smith with his tastefully melodic leads, Dave Murray with more frantic but smooth runs, and Janick Gers with chaotic flurries of notes. With a new album to promote, it was clear that new material would take the lion’s share of the setlist as the band has never shied away from playing new songs. “Speed of Light”, the up tempo first single from “Book of Souls”, followed. Then the band brought us back many years ago (1982 to be precise) with a fantastic interpretation of “Children of the Damned”. The lighter arrangement fared better with the sound mix, allowing us to appreciate the fact that Bruce Dickinson’s voice is back to full strength after fighting and beating tongue cancer last year.
The band went back to “Book of Souls” with “Tears of a Clown” which Dickinson dedicated to Robin Williams, and “The Red and the Black”. The backdrop then changed to the iconic Trooper imagery as the familiar charging riff resounded around the arena. Bruce Dickinson has to be the only man alive who can wave a Union Jack flag in this province and get such a massive ovation.
The British heavy metal legends renewed their love affair with the fans of our province after an absence of close to 4 years, one of the longest in their history. At some point, singer Bruce Dickinson declared in very good french “We love all the places in Canada, but Quebec is the heart of metal. Quebec is the heart of Iron Maiden.” Coming from anyone else, this would sound like insincere lip service, but Iron Maiden has been playing here and saying the same thing for 35 years: you can’t deny the connection between band and audience.
Then for “Powerslave”, the singer donned a traditional luchador mask instead of the Egyptian mask he’s worn on earlier tours. Hidden behind his drum kit, Nicko McBrain struggled a little with the intricate drum fills in the song, but to their credit, the band never derailed. But McBrain, the elder of the band at 63, has said many times in recent years that he doesn’t know how long he can carry on playing such physically demanding material. One can probably guess that the end of the band will come when Nicko hangs his sticks.
Another pair of new tracks, “Death or Glory” and “Book of Souls”, were next. The title track saw Eddie walk on the stage, battling with guitarist Janick Gers until the mascot got too close to Dickinson and got his heart ripped out “Temple of Doom” style. The band ended its main set with the quintessential Maiden song “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, “Fear of the Dark” with its massive sing along, and their signature song “Iron Maiden”.
After a short break, the spoken intro to “The Number of the Beast” ushered in the encore. “Blood Brothers”, from 2000’s “Brave New World” was next, making a powerful statement that the band’s millennial material is worthy of standing toe to toe with their classics. “Wasted Years” wrapped up the 2 hour show.
Sound issues plagued the performance, and Nicko McBrain was a little weaker than usual on drums, but this was still a massive performance from a band that has managed to renew itself many times over the years and find an audience in the newer generations. The show followed the Maiden formula to the letter, but when the result is, despite the issues, this good, it’s easier to forgive. The sold out crowd was clearly made up of blood brothers and sisters; united in their love of metal, but mostly their love for Iron Maiden. Let’s enjoy these veterans while they’re still around, kicking ass and taking names.
Opening the evening was “The Raven Age”, the band featuring Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris’ son George on guitar. Their melodic modern metal wasn’t bad, and the crowd dug them enough that you can say they fulfilled their role of opening act. The music was unmemorable, but the band acted and sounded like seasoned pros.