Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Maiden Mansfield

Iron Maiden opening night in North Carolina- John McMurtie photo

Even when sticking to a script that’s nearly 25 years old, Iron Maiden is relevant. The band returned to the Comcast Center in Mansfield on June 26 and played with a level of energy and degree of execution that set the bar for what a metal show should be.

The set list is roughly a recreation of the “Maiden England” video, which was drawn from Iron Maiden’s 1988 tour behind the “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” album. But in tweaking the show for 2012, Maiden added choice cuts from “Powerslave,” dumped some of the songs from “Maiden England,” and jumped up to material from 1992's “Fear of the Dark.”

Basically the band created a perfect song list to bring the old-timers back to a happy place, let next-gen Maiden fans revel in a bit of history_ when bands knew how to put on a show, dammit_ and to maximize the group’s three-guitar lineup that took shape a decade after the original go-round with these tunes.

Alice Cooper opened with a typically action-packed 45-minute set. There wasn't really enough time for Alice to fully do his thing, but from his opening onslaught of “Black Widow” onward, Cooper looked and sounded fierce. His band now features guitar ace Orianthi whose solo in “Hey Stoopid” gave reason to stick around for that bit of  "modern" Cooper. The old classics still ruled overall, particularly when Cooper tapped “No More Mr. Nice Guy”_ performed with python coiling Alice’s neck and head_ and closed with a “School’s Out” that folded in Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.”
Oracle Eddie lording over stage in Mansfield

Iron Maiden’s sprawling stage design resurrected the frozen tundra look of the 1988 tour, and the band commenced with a stretch from “Maiden England” including “Moonchild,” “Can I Play With Madness,” and “The Prisoner.” That last song was a nice revival, but each tune was a thorough blow-out in its own right, setting a frantic pace that the band would sustain over the course of two hours.

Singer Bruce Dickinson didn’t stop for a moment, bounding from side to side and back and forth, scaling risers and ramps as he unleashed his howl (definitely more of a nuanced howler than straight-up singer, no?). Guitarists Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Gers deployed multiple solos in any given song so even the “short” songs sounded big, and already big tunes such as “Phantom of the Opera” and “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” were epic.

Adrian Smith, Mansfield

Bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain likewise did not hold down conventional roles. McBrain swings as much as he pounds, giving Iron Maiden more rhythmic flair than its peers. And Harris, like Dickinson, is tireless in running speedy riffs that keep even the loftiest tunes tied to down-and-dirty metal.

Dips back to the classic first album still retained the scrappy, thrash side to the band, while the mid-80s material unfolded with progressive flourish. This tour is a nice showcase of how this band both grew on its on and shaped metal overall, basically granting license for metal bands to think big in terms of style and substance. In Maiden's case, that has resulted in a catalog of anthemic songs revolving around themes of good vs evil.

Along with ample lights, flames, and explosions, the concert was overstuffed with countless visual displays of the band’s monstrous mascot, Eddie. Highlights included a “General Custer” Eddie that walked out during “Run to the Hills” and a mystical oracle Eddie  that arose during “Seventh Son.”

Sure Iron Maiden is the one crisscrossing North America at the moment, but at the Comcast Center it definitely felt more like being among metal’s faithful making a pilgrimage and coming out of it with faith restored.

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