Timeless rockers Iron Maiden still keeping crowds screaming

With music rooted in science fiction, history and mythology, Iron Maiden’s performances have always been among the most theatrical in the heavy metal world.

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Sixty-one.

That’s the average age of the six members of Iron Maiden.

Yet that didn’t stop them from running, jumping, kicking, twirling guitars and mic stands, and generally making everyone under 60 — especially me — feel physically outclassed.

With music rooted in science fiction, history and mythology, Iron Maiden’s performances have always been among the most theatrical in the heavy metal world. The stage set for the “Book of Souls” tour was no exception. A lone spotlight illuminated vocalist Bruce Dickinson leaning over a smoking cauldron as the long atmospheric intro to “If Eternity Should Fail” played to open the set. A blast of pyrotechnics followed and set the band on a frenzied pace that rarely let up for their two-hour performance at San Antonio’s AT&T Center on Saturday night.

The Mayan temple-themed set perfectly matched the thematic “Book of Souls”-heavy setlist, featuring six songs off the band’s 2015 release. It was one of just three Texas dates on the second half of the Book of Souls tour, backing up their massively-successful double LP of the same name.

At eight and a half minutes, “Eternity” set the tone for a performance that many in the audience described as the best they’ve ever seen.

“I've seen acts by younger bands that didn't have as much energy as an Iron Maiden show,” said concertgoer Matt Murphy on the band’s Facebook page.

“Speed of Light,” the first single off the new release, followed to thunderous applause. Maiden then moved into “Wrathchild,” from the “Killers” album, which carries a bit of history being the first album to feature longtime guitarist Adrian Smith. It was also the final album with Paul Di’Anno on vocals before Dickinson joined in 1981 and the band’s fortunes rose exponentially.

That fame rose to a fever pitch with the 1986 release, “Somewhere in Time,” which spent 39 weeks on the charts and spawned the hit “Wasted Years,” which the British rockers used to close out the show on the end of a three-song encore.

Playing a total of 15 songs from nine different albums, each featuring a different backdrop harkening back to the album and tour art of those original albums, Dickinson’s voice never faltered through the operatic “Fear of the Dark,” the rousing anthem “The Trooper,” or the 13 and a half minutes of “The Red and the Black.”

That's especially notable given that the start of the tour was delayed for 10 months while the frontman recovered from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on his tongue.

"Scream for me, San Antonio!" Dickinson yelled repeatedly through the performance. And scream they did. 

Showing exceptional fluidity that can only come from decades of playing together, the trio of guitarists (Smith, David Murray and Janick Gers) passed the ‘solo’ torch back and forth even as Dickinson used his best efforts to prank and distract, even draping a Union Jack over the head of Gers — mid-solo, no less.

Even playing through two hours and covering nine albums, touching on many of the fan favorites, there was still room to wonder why such important milestones as “Aces High” and “2 Minutes to Midnight” were left off the setlist.

While a few fans also noted the omissions, the vast majority seem to have left in great spirits and thankful for another opportunity to see one of metal’s most enduring acts.

The only real complaints to be found related to the sweltering heat inside the arena. Concertgoer Juan Torres, sweating profusely but proudly holding onto his souvenir t-shirt and and cap as he exited the arena, said the heat only added to the atmosphere. “It’s supposed to be in the jungle, isn’t it? Besides, it was my first time seeing (Iron Maiden) so it was awesome!”

It’s a testament to the band’s legacy that the crowd was filled with grandparents taking their children and grandchildren to see their first Iron Maiden concert. Spotting flags held up by fans attendance from from several different, Dickinson told the crowd, “I don’t care if you’re black, brown, yellow, purple with polka dots, I don’t care what you do at home, who your partner is or who you hold hands with… (tonight) shows that 13,000 people can come together and just have a great time.”

And it wasn’t just the fans having a great time.

Aside from the energy they displayed, what’s even more remarkable is that these six guys are still having a lot of fun. Drummer Nicko McBrain — the oldest of the lot at 65 — was smiling nearly every time his visage was displayed on the massive screens positioned either side of the stage that brought fans in the back of the venue right up close to the action. Founding member and bassist Steve Harris darted from one side of the stage to the other, mouthing the lyrics to all the songs and displaying more vitality than many musicians half his age.

Given that much of today’s metal music scene has given over to aggressive music highlighted by growls and barely-intelligible screams and even less intelligible tree-root-looking band logos, Iron Maiden is quite simply a breath of fresh air.

They smiled at members of the audience — not just the crowd, but individual eye contact and a personalized smile or nod. They also smiled at each other, laughed easily, told jokes and cut up on stage. Frontman Dickinson changed accessories nearly as often as the backdrop, donning a WWI-style British uniform for “The Trooper” and slipping on a black and silver luchador mask for “Powerslave.”

Mascot ‘Eddie’ made his appearance midway through the title song, “Book of Souls,” resulting in more on-stage antics and loud cheers from the crowd.

While there are plenty of bands with older members, few of those bands would even think of embarking on a 117-date tour with stops in 36 countries on six continents over a span of 17 months.

In my book (of souls) only one band can get away with wearing their own t-shirts on stage without looking self-aggrandizing... and that’s Iron Maiden.

They’ve earned that right with countless trips across the globe, selling more than 90 million albums over four decades. And they keep on earning it with performances like that displayed in San Antonio. 

Opening act, Swedish band Ghost, more than held their own in front of a crowd gathered primarily for a truly legendary metal act.

It was obvious that Ghost — the 2016 Grammy-winners for Best Metal Performance for their song "Cirice" — have garned many fans with the melodic pop/rock tracks that have garnered much airplay here in the U.S.

Playing through eight songs including the bluesy-rock anthem "From the Pinnacle to the Pit," and the prog-rock sounding "Mummy Dust" — a song about the rampant worship of money — Ghost's fan base was evident early and had grown yet again by the end of their 45-minute set.

Iron Maiden Set List in San Antonio:

(Intro) Doctor Doctor (UFO song)

If Eternity Should Fail

Speed of Light

Wrathchild

Children of the Damned

Death or Glory

The Red and the Black

The Trooper

Powerslave

The Great Unknown

The Book of Souls

Fear of the Dark

Iron Maiden

-- Encore -- 

The Number of the Beast

Blood Brothers

Wasted Years

(Exit) Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (Monty Python song)

 

Ghost Set List:

(Intro) Masked Ball (Jocelyn Pook song)

Square Hammer

From the Pinnacle to the Pit

Ritual

Cirice

Year Zero

Absolution

Mummy Dust

Monstrance Clock

 

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