Iron Maiden Still Packs the House … and Packs a Punch
But last Saturday, the hottest ticket in town was for the veteran British heavy metal band’s highly anticipated Legacy of the Beast World Tour stop at PPG Paints Arena, which was filled from floor to ceiling with generations of black T-shirt-clad fans eager for a heavy dose of old-school rock’n’roll.
Iron Maiden has always had a reputation for delivering a wildly entertaining live show, but the secret about how much the band has raised the bar in terms of stage spectacle for this tour has been spreading online and through word-of-mouth since the tour began last year. The Pittsburgh show sold out months ago, and tickets being scalped over the online resale market had taunted asking prices of up to triple face value.
Part of the band’s iconic image over the past four and a half decades has been carried by their menacing mascot Eddie — a snarling, skinless, heavy metal zombie that has taken dozens of different forms and has appeared in various themes emblazoned on Iron Maiden’s album covers, posters, T-shirts and other band-related artwork. Fans had plenty of Eddie goods from which to chose at Saturday’s show, as merchandise booths were set up throughout the corridors inside the arena and even at satellite merchandise booths available outside the venue.
The band Iron Maiden was formed in 1975 and has been active writing and releasing albums and touring the world ever since. A number of band members have come and gone and then come back, but the core lineup from the band’s golden years is not only back, the current personnel with a three-guitar showcase has been in place longer than any other lineup in the band’s 45-year history.
Today, members of the band are all in their 60s. Although most fans may say their heyday happened during the ’80s (when their most celebrated albums and most popular songs were released), Iron Maiden has been one rock band that has never lost a step in their prowess to perform. In fact, some may claim the seasoned band members actually may have gotten even better with age.
As a pre-recorded “Doctor Doctor” by the band UFO pumped into the arena got the crowd geared up for show time, stage hands in military fatigues marched out to a stage that was draped in camouflage. Fans knew what was coming, but their internet-trolling reconnaissance mission on the show’s set list didn’t dilute their excitement. The band charged onto the stage with front man Bruce Dickinson donning a leather aviator cap and goggles as a nearly full-sized WWII British Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane emerged from behind the drum set. The plane (which appeared to be inflatable, complete with a spinning propeller and lights), took flight above the band and the front rows of fans as decibels soared and Dickinson belted out the chorus to “Aces High” with all of his might.
With the first song — it simply was an eye-popping, jaw dropping spectacle that set the tone for the rest of the show. “Welcome to the Legacy of the Beast,” Dickinson announced as the opening song pounded to an end.
A massive new backdrop seemed to arrive with each song, and Dickinson appeared to change costumes to fit the theme of every number as well. “Where Eagles Dare” from the “Piece of Mind” album was next, continuing the WWII theme in a way as the song is based on the 1968 British WWII action film set in the snowy Alps.
The band pulled out crowd favorites that spanned many eras of their career, which includes 16 studio albums. Classics like “2 Minutes to Midnight” and “The Number of the Beast” were laced between songs that were somewhat of a surprise to see in the set list. Blaze Bailey-era songs (from albums in the 1990s during Dickinson’s departure from the band) “The Clansman” and the epic “Sign of the Cross” were performed, as were nuggets like “Fear of the Dark,” “The Wicker Man” and “For the Greater Good of God” from more recent (as in post-1980s) albums.
Spactacle highlights came during a performance of crowd favorite “The Trooper,” when a 10-feet-tall Eddie clad in a British soldier’s red coat engaged in a sword fight with Dickinson, who insisted Eddie had stolen his jacket.
“Flight of Icarus” featured a huge winged Icarus behind the stage. At first glance, the Icarus appeared to be a hologram on a screen, but a closer look revealed it, too, was a huge inflateable suspended by wires and controlled like a marionette, as the Spitfire was. Dickinson was armed with flamethrowers up both sleeves during this number.
Commanding the stage and the audience, Dickinson solidified his standing as one of rock’n’roll’s greatest front men. He pranced the stage with boundless energy, always in character and moving with grace like he was part stage thespian, part circus ring leader and part Olympic fencer. His operatic rock vocals never sounded better, and the audience could see and feel the full, genuine energy he put into every note.
The other band members were equally on point. The three-guitar attack of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers showed why so many aspiring guitar players since the 1980s have idolized Iron Maiden. All three got their share of time in the spotlight for tasty guitar leads and monster riff work.
One of the best rock drummers in the business, Nicko McBrain was barely visible behind a tall array of toms and cymbals that were part of a mesmerizing drum kit that matched one of the ever-changing stage set “worlds.” Tall stained glass “windows” with different depictions of Eddie and hanging candle-lit chandeliers created a cathedral-like atmosphere, and each of McBrain’s drums and even his Paiste gong cymbal matched the colorful stained-glass panels.
Anchoring the band on bass was the group’s founder, key songwriter and only member to be present through it’s entire history. Steve Harris stalked the stage with a rumbling, gallopping bass line that whipped through the arena without mercy. Although every member of Iron Maiden could be deemed a world-class rock musician, when it comes to ranking top players for their instrument, the name “Steve Harris” always comes up in the conversation about the best rock bass players of all time.
The band’s namesake tune “Iron Maiden” ended the set with shooting flames and an absolutely mammoth demonic horned Eddie head inflating behind the stage.
The band said “goodnight” but returned for a healthy encore of favorites “The Evil That Men Do,” “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and of course “Run to the Hills” that ended with a prop TNT plunger setting off explosions, flames and enough pyro to bring down the plane from the show’s opener.
While the spectacular show was everything it was billed to be and then some, many fans were left wanting more. Traditional show staples and hits like “Wasted Years,” “Stranger in a Strage Land” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” were left out, as were many other favorites.
With more than four decades of material, I guess it would be impossible to play every great song.
Luckily, the Legacy of the Beast Tour is being dubbed by many to be the biggest and best Iron Maiden tour to date, but — unlike recent tours by the veteran band’s contemporaries — it was never billed as a “farewell tour” for the band that simply refuses to grow old with age.