The lights dimmed on a sold out Bell Centre, and the crowd roared as the booming voice of Winston Churchill echoed through the speakers. “We shall never surrender!” might be an accurate metaphor for the metal legends’ career. 39 years after the release of their debut album, they’ve weathered the ups and down of metal to connect with a new, younger audience and remain a powerful force in the music business. “People claim that hard rock is dead,” would later say singer Bruce Dickinson, addressing the crowd in French. “But there’s a lot of people here who disagree with that.”
Iron Maiden opened their set with ‘Aces High’, as their usual stage set was covered in camouflage foliage. The next 4 songs, ‘Where Eagles Dare’, ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’, ‘The Clansman’ and ‘The Trooper’ (with a visit from Eddie) kept the military theme going, one of the band’s favourite topics. They sounded great; sure, these surgical section changes aren’t always as tight as they once were, and Dickinson has to adapt a few lines to his vocal range, but you’d never guess they’re all in their 60’s. It’s a marvel that at 67, the band’s elder Nicko McBrain can still go through the intense workout of drumming a two-hour Maiden set, but he’s the one showing the most wear. Throughout the night, he flubbed a few fills, in particular during the closer ‘Run to the Hills’ where he slightly derailed the band and Dickinson. On the opposite end, bassist Steve Harris must have found the fountain of youth because he doesn’t seem to age, still running around the stage while his bass sounds like a freight train going through your head.
Visually, the band was relying on its usual arsenal of tricks, but expanding the theatricality of Bruce Dickinson’s performance with props underlying the lyrical theme of each song. For a band as literate as Iron Maiden (their songs are usual based on novels, films or historical events), it really helped to bring the songs to life. From a life-sized WWII fighter jet to a giant winged figure for the brilliantly played ‘Flight of Icarus’ (which hadn’t been played since the ‘Somewhere in Time’ tour, to a giant head of their famous mascot Eddie, the concert was as much a treat for the eyes as the ears.
The band focused mostly on the first 20 years of their recorded output, with ‘For the Greater Good of God’ being the only post-2000 material. Dickinson drew a lot of cheers when he announced the band wouldn’t play any new songs. It was followed by an even bigger reaction when he said they’d be back with new material. But last night was all about the bands abundant classic material.
‘Sign of the Cross’, from their first album with Blaze Bayley, slotted in nicely among the 80’s tracks, having risen to the rank of classic over time. So did ‘The Clansman’ (“For the Americans, that’s with a C.” would quip Dickinson), with the sold out crowd chanting ‘Freedom!’ to the top of their lungs along to the story of William Wallace. This song presented Dickinson the opportunity for one of his famous rants when he said “I don’t know why the Americans cast Mel Gibson to play a Scotsman. That’s Hollywood for you!”
When the band played ‘Fear of the Dark’, a massive mosh pit opened on the floor, as guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers traded parts. ‘The Number of the Beast’ was next, followed by the usual set closer ‘Iron Maiden’. They came back to thunderous applause, and offered their fans a final encore. ‘The Evil That Men Do’, ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ and ‘Run to the Hills’ sent everyone home with ears ringing and a huge grin on their faces.
It’s amazing that this band is still running as strongly after four decades. This show was my 21st over the last 35 years: with such a high energy performance, and one of their best setlists ever, the ‘Legacy of the Beast’ tour stands as a testament to the legend of Iron Maiden.
The Raven Age kicked off the evening with 50 minutes of generic metalcore. Some songs showed promise, but a dense mix made their music come out of the speakers as a muddy block. Their guitarist George Harris is Steve Harris’ son, which might explain why they were on the bill for the second tour in a row despite being an odd match for Maiden. But then again, not a lot of bands can hold their own against them.
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