Iron Maiden. Pepsi Center. 04.13.16
Iron Maiden defy imagination. They are timeless is every sense of the word. After over forty years in existence, their reach continues to extend to all corners of the Earth. While most heavy metal bands from the 80’s have long since retired, or morphed into something completely unrecognizable, the guys who were responsible for classics like Piece of Mind, Powerslave, and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son are literally flying high on the momentum of a late career resurgence. The big news this weekend is about the reformation of Guns ‘N Roses. People are going to fork out thousands of dollars to see Axl Rose roll around in a wheelchair in the desert, while Slash tries to hide his hatred under a mane of curls. In the meantime, Bruce Dickinson will be piloting Iron Maiden’s personal 747 to another city. Ed Force One will be met, as it always is, by a sea of hysterical fans just trying to get a glimpse of the latest incarnation of the most iconic mascot in music. “The Book of Souls World Tour” isn’t a cash grab attempt by aging musicians. Instead, it’s just another opportunity for Iron Maiden to do what they have been doing for decades now; showcase some new material while celebrating their past. Laying waste to the planet, one arena at a time, is just a fortunate consequence of those actions.
Deviation from the set list is something which rarely happens at an Iron Maiden concert. The production value of the show just doesn’t lend itself to audible play calling. So from the moment Bruce Dickinson appeared on the elevated stage (citing incantations over a smoldering cauldron), to the collage of Eddie images (past, present,and future) that hovered over an inspired performance of “Wasted Years”, every moment was accompanied by rotating murals and animated props highlighting the various lyrical themes. A wrecked plane dangled from the trees above a Tikal-like jungle scene during “If Eternity Should Fail”. The Mayan ruins stood tall in the background while Janick Gers performed guitar acrobatics at the “Speed of Light”. Dickinson introduced “Children of the Damned” as a song from “a long, long time ago…before quite of a few of you were even born,” and then everything was bathed in a sinister blue light. And before we knew it, he was waiving the Union Jack around like a maniac, while Steve Harris aimed his bass at the crowd like a musket ready to fire during “The Trooper”.
“Tears of a Clown” (written about Robin Williams) was another highlight from The Book of Souls, but after Dickinson donned a Lucha libre mask for “Powerslave”, they hit the only lull in the set. “Death or Glory” and “The Book of Souls” provided the perfect time to take a beer break, but (for some ridiculous reason) alcohol had been cut off at 9:30pm. Disappointment went by the wayside when a gigantic Eddie joined the band on stage, only to have his heart literally ripped out by the end of the title track from the new album. “What made the Mayan empire disappear? Nobody knows, but maybe they just smoked too much weed.” You couldn’t buy a beer by that point in the night, but that didn’t stop the smokers from lighting up during the second half of the show. As the set gave way to classic material, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the band’s stamina. There wasn’t a single comment about altitude among the six of them. Quite impressive for a band with an average age of 59 years old. Having just beat cancer, Dickinson was the most impressive of all. He was like a track star running laps around the multi-leveled stage throughout the entire performance.
The night ended with an undeniable run of anthems. “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, “Fear of the Dark”, and “Iron Maiden” closed out the main set, before Satan himself graced us with his presence during “The Number of the Beast”. As flames shot to the ceiling, like something out of a nightmare, there was a part of me that wished the concert was happening anywhere but the Pepsi Center. I hate Fiddler’s Green as much as Iron Maiden do, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t have rather been at an outdoor venue, with a beer in my hand, as the crowd echoed “Blood Brothers” back at the band. Then I remembered hearing about the guys who flew all the way from El Salvador for the show. I also remembered the British guys I met at the bar earlier who had also traveled a great distance. Then the words to “Wasted Years” really started to hit home as Dickinson belted them out at the end of the night. Those words (and the sacrifices made by the members of the band and their fans) made realize how lucky I was to be at the Pepsi Center on that particular Wednesday night.
Being met at the airport by throngs of fans isn’t something every band experiences, but Iron Maiden have experienced it on almost every continent. Wearing the headliner’s t-shirt to a show is usually frowned upon, but if you don’t have Eddie decorating your back and chest at an Iron Maiden concert, you probably feel out of place. Going to see your parents’ favorite band isn’t exactly bucket list material for most kids either, but when the show is part theme park ride, part comic book, part horror movie, and 100% triple guitar assault, it’s easy to forget that the dude with the funny accent and crazy costume is old enough to be your grandfather. I was denied permission to see Iron Maiden when I was in sixth grade, so it’s always great to see a new generation of parents introducing their kids to the spectacle that is an Iron Maiden show. The band really does defy imagination, but they also inspire it. They bring out a childlike wonder in all of us. The men in Iron Maiden are not ageless, but they still have enough drive and tenacity to inspire the masses from the big stage. The day will come when that will no longer be true, but I have a feeling they will know when it is time to hang up the irons. I doubt we will ever see Dickinson wheeling himself around in an automated chair. We will never hear the words “Scream for me Coachella!” Iron Maiden’s music and imagery will live on forever; in their songs, album covers, t-shirts, posters, but most importantly, in the heads of their fans. Those memories can never be taken away or tarnished.
If Eternity Should Fail
Speed of Light
Children of the Damned
Tears of a Clown
The Red and the Black
Death or Glory
The Book of Souls
Hallowed Be Thy Name
Fear of the Dark
The Number of the Beast