I waited 35 years for this – since the first time I heard Number of the Beast (admittedly, a couple of years after its release) – but the biggest remaining band on my bucket list has been checked off.
One of the regrets of my teenage years has always been missing a 1980s show in my area that featured both Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. It was a mid-week concert during the school year, and I would have been hard-pressed to get my parents’ OK, so I didn’t try. As the years passed, I still had not seen either band for various reasons, and that decision loomed large. It was a long shot, but it would have been a shot.
I took care of Judas Priest, hitting a couple of shows over the past two years, and I vowed that I would not miss the next Iron Maiden concert within a reasonable drive. When tickets went on sale for the Dallas date last November, I was waiting to be sure that I got good seats. So even after having tickets in hand, there was still about 10 months of anticipation before I finally entered the Dos Equis Pavilion for that final payoff.
But let’s start a few hours before the concert. Old-school metal fans, for the most part, have always felt a sort of kinship, but I was particularly struck by the camaraderie of the Iron Maiden fans that traveled to this show. When I walked into the hotel lobby to check in, it was filled with fans. Upon seeing my Maiden shirt, I was immediately embraced as a brother.
A group that had traveled from New Orleans offered me a beer from the open case they’d set on the counter as they waited. I talked to a fan from Brazil who was also seeing them for the first time, but planned to follow them back to his home country for their Rock in Rio performance a few weeks later. There were handshakes, horns and high-fives all around. The wait to check in was lengthy, as we had all arrived at the same time and the clerk seemed a little overwhelmed, but no one cared. We talked Iron Maiden and metal, and got each other pumped up for the show.
I am a massive introvert, never comfortable in a crowd, particularly with people that I don’t know. But I’ve rarely felt more comfortable in a group than I did in that hotel lobby, surrounded by strangers from all walks of life with really only one common bond. When I went back out with the keys to bring in my family and the luggage, I had a big goofy grin on my face and I was more ready for this show than ever.
Then it was showtime. After a little opening-act nepotism with the Raven Age, featuring Iron Maiden leader Steve Harris’ son on guitar, everyone was wound up and ready for the main event. Or so we thought. I’m not sure how prepared I was for what was about to unfold.
As soon as UFO’s “Doctor Doctor” began to play, cheers started going up. Two crew members came to attention in military uniforms at the front of the stage and began to remove the black drapes to reveal a set covered in camo netting, the war theme that would mark the first set of the show. The lights went out, Winston Churchill appeared on the screens to give his famous “we shall never surrender” speech, and when the lights came back up, there was a life-sized Spitfire fighter plane flying over the stage, dipping and diving along with the song, as the band launched into “Aces High.” Bruce Dickinson came flying wildly onto the stage dressed in an aviator jacket and goggles, and off we went.
How do you top that? Well, you have to be Iron Maiden.
The show started furiously, charging straight into “Where Eagles Dare,” followed by “Two Minutes to Midnight.” The latter gave us the first big crowd sing-along moment of the night, but far from the last.
Then we got to take a little breath as Bruce welcomed the fans to the show and explained what the Legacy of the Beast tour was all about – a celebration of all things Maiden. “We’ve got a lot to get through because we’re fucking old,” he joked. But for the next two hours, the band would prove that an absolute lie.
There was nothing phoned in, no old guys going through the motions to get paid. An absolute passion and joy in what they were doing radiated from the stage for the entire night. Harris and guitarist Janick Gers bounced around like much younger men. The twin guitars of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray were as tight as ever. Every time we’d get a shot of drummer Nicko McBrain on the stage screens, he had a huge grin on his face and looked like he was having the time of his life. And Bruce Dickinson? Well, he’s either found the fountain of youth or made a deal with some infernal entity. He ran around the stage like a madman, seamlessly mixing a healthy dose of goofiness with the gravitas required by many of the songs and, of course, making his trademark demand that we scream for him. At 61, he showed absolutely no sign that amazing voice was slipping.
After the intro, Maiden played the first of a couple of songs from the Blaze Bayley era with “The Clansman,” prompting Bruce to joke that if anyone recommended the song, “make sure you fucking spell it right. Clansman has a C.” The crowd roared with laughter and then roared the “Freedom!” refrain from the song back at the stage.
That brought us to one of the iconic moments of an Iron Maiden show, “The Trooper.” Fan cheers intensified as the 10-foot-tall Maiden mascot Eddie appeared, decked out in his soldier uniform. He stalked the stage during the song, sword fighting with Dickinson and swinging his blade around the other band members until, finally, the singer took him down with a musket shot, which also brought the first set of the show to a close.
When the stage lit up again, gone was the camo netting, and we found ourselves in a cathedral, complete with a gorgeous stained-glass backdrop depicting various versions of Eddie. A new theme emerged as the band opened this portion of the show with “Revelations.” Next up was one of the most surprising performances of the night for me. I’ve never been a big fan of “For the Greater Good of God,” but I was impressed and entranced by the live performance of the song. They cranked up the energy again with “The Wicker Man” and then revisited the Bayley era with “Sign of the Cross.”
That brought around one of my most anticipated moments of the show, “Flight of Icarus.” It’s one of my favorite Maiden tunes, and the band was playing it on this tour for the first time since the 1980s. As they started the song, Icarus rose in the backdrop, soaring over the stage. Dickinson came out equipped with, no joke, flamethrowers attached to his arms. As he sang, he shot bursts of fire into the air to punctuate the lyrics. That led up to the finale of the song where the sun’s rays, in the form of gouts of flame from the top of the stage, shot down around Icarus, who folded and dropped from view behind the stage. It was a fantastic moment that, like the Spitfire earlier, was worthy of a show-ending performance, but there was much more to come.
If you’ve seen any Iron Maiden live recording from the past 25 years or so, one of the most impressive segments of the night is always “Fear of the Dark.” The crowd sing-alongs on DVDs and live recordings are always enough to give you chills, but trust me, it’s nothing like being there and adding your voice to the chorus. As soon as the song began, so did the singing from the crowd, and it didn’t let up. Dickinson held us in the palm of his hand, directing us to add our voices to the chorus, and Harris and Gers got fans bouncing when the song kicked into high gear. It was an amazing performance to bring the second set to its close.
After a few moments of darkness, the spoken words “Woe to you, oh Earth and sea …” from the loudspeakers brought the biggest crowd reaction yet as we found ourselves on a new set featuring huge torches, more hellish visions and plenty of flames for “Number of the Beast.” After a fiery performance, both visually and sonically, Maiden wrapped up the first portion of the show with the eponymous “Iron Maiden,” and a huge demonic Eddie head with glowing eyes rose behind them to stare menacingly at the crowd as Bruce Dickinson told us that Iron Maiden was going to get all of us.
After a short break, the band returned for the encore kicking it off at a gallop with “The Evil That Men Do.” The finish included, of course, the only two songs that it possibly could. Bruce played the part of the condemned man for “Hallowed be thy Name” – which, in my mind is one of, if not THE greatest metal song ever. He sang the first part of the song from behind prison bars with the crowd almost drowning him out, then moved out where a noose dropped down for the faster portion of the song, whipping the crowd into a screaming frenzy just before his big finale vocals.
Then that instantly recognizable drumbeat of “Run to the Hills” to close the show, literally, with a bang. The song gave several opportunities for fan sing-along and for Bruce to have some goofy fun pretending Monty Python-style to be galloping across the stage on a horse. The whole thing culminated in Dickinson being chased across the stage by explosions before pushing down a TNT plunger at the top that set off pyro across the stage.
Once it was done, I collapsed into my seat, the first time I’d sat down since “Doctor Doctor” came on more than two hours before. I was out of breath, hoarse and completely exhausted. But when Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” started playing as the lights came up, I’m pretty sure I had the widest grin on my face that I’ve had in a good many years, as I whistled along and started the road to recovery from what I’d just seen and participated in.
I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my lifetime. I’ve been to a lot of great concerts. I can’t remember a better one than this. As we walked out of the theater, looking for our ride home, the glow of the experience was tempered only slightly by the pang of realizing how many times I could have seen this and found a reason not to go. That won’t happen again.
The next day, I had a hard time pointing my car toward home instead of heading for Houston, where the next show was. If there had been anything left besides lawn tickets for that night’s Iron Maiden performance, it’s a battle that I can guarantee I would have lost – driving all night to get home for work Monday morning be damned.
Even as they approach 45 years in the business, I can say unequivocally that Maiden is the best live band that I’ve ever seen, and I find it difficult to believe that there’s a better one anywhere out there. I’ve seen shows that were flashier and filled with more pyro, and I’ve seen more serious affairs that highlighted skilled musicianship, but for the total package – spectacle, performance and passion – Iron Maiden can’t be beat.