Photo Credit: John McMurtrie

Hard Rock Corner: Iron Maiden

Live at Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA, June 4, 2017

Jun 19, 2017 By Frank Valish Web Exclusive
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About 75 minutes into Iron Maiden's set at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the person next to me, a dark-haired lady, perhaps in her late-40s, clad in stockings, a tight and tattered classic Iron Maiden t-shirt, and an eyebrow ring, grabbed me by the shoulders and asked (read: shouted) whether I was having a good time. "I just wanted to make sure," said the woman, who had been banging her head and shaking her hair in my personal space for the past hour. "You're so subdued."

I tried as I might to reassure her, over the blitzkrieg of British metal's most iconic band, but I'm not sure she believed it (her further singing along and pointing at me in exuberance seemed to be aimed at making me show more outward signs of Up the Irons approval). Truth is, my lack of "rocking out" was due less to the overall excellence and my overall enjoyment of the show, but more to the fact that I, an Iron Maiden virgin as it were, was just taking it all in.

And at this Iron Maiden show, there was a lot to take in. Stage decorated in faux Mayan temple motif. A smoking cauldron on a runway set above the drum kit. Fire. Numerous changes in Eddie (the Iron Maiden mascot)-themed backdrops. More fire. Costume changes by frontman Bruce Dickinson. And, of course, the ever-anticipated live 15-foot tall Eddie menacing the stage. If one were to physically lose oneself in the music, one would have missed all the action. All faculties were required. Especially for a first timer. Of course, this was too much to explain over the metal mayhem. But yes, yes I was enjoying it, despite conspicuous lack of head banging.

An Iron Maiden show is a spectacle, and June 4 in Philadelphia was no different. Most appropriately perhaps, despite some strange taunts of "Steely Dan, Steely Dan" from the Maiden faithful seated behind me, the show opened with a 45-minute set from Swedish pop-metallers, Ghost. Ghost's costumed image includes that of a Satanic priest frontman and his demon-masked instrumentalist bandmates, and its stagecraft reflects the same. Satan is Ghost's common theme, but once one got past the thought that the band might sacrifice a goat on stage, one realized that the music, while not as death metal as one might imagine given the imagery, was a potent mix of heavy riffery and accessible melodies that was quite entertaining.

As for the headliner, truth be told, Iron Maiden was never my preferred listening as a kid. It was an operatic metal pleasure I came to later in life, which I realize is odd. But seeing them live for the first time was a revelation and something that my younger self surely would have liked, as my older self did on this day.

Just before 9:00 PM, the set opened with Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson, head down over a smoking cauldron flanked by six flaming pots, singing, "Here is the soul of a man," the first lines of "If Eternity Should Fail," the opening track from the band's most recent album, 2016's The Book of Souls. The backdrop was that of an ancient Mayan temple. Dickinson proved, despite being 58 years old, to be in remarkably fine voice, flamboyantly evident in the blood curdling scream of the following song, The Book of Souls' "Speed of Light," the live performance of which dwarfed its studio counterpart.

After dipping back into the pre-Dickinson/Paul Di'Anno-fronted Maiden days for "Wrathchild" from 1981's Killers, Dickinson reminded everyone of the era that made the band famous. "Who was born after 1982?," asked Dickinson to the crowd. "The next song is from 1982. Which raises the terrible prospect of where you all came from. Which also raises the awful specter of mum and dad sex. Yeah yeah I know, too gory to contemplate. But you know it happened...It's quite a nice track to make love to, for the first seconds, and then it all turns a bit gnarly. We won't go there. But they obviously did. Because some of you are certainly Children of the Damned," thus launching into the song from their breakout The Number of the Beast album.

Returning to The Book of Souls, Dickinson, after exiting the stage for a minute, returned with a monkey mask and Velcro-handed monkey around his neck, jumping around like an ape to "Death or Glory" and the spectacular and spectacularly epic 13-minute "The Red and The Black." Despite the set thus far heavily favoring recent Maiden, the crowd sung along with the words, chanted upon provocation, and generally seemed to not even miss the band's classic tracks. Not that they weren't forthcoming.

After Dickinson's monkey business, another costume change found him in red army uniform and waving a British flag to the furious opening riff of "The Trooper." Dickinson and band were in fine form blazing through one of their most classic songs, even as Dickinson humorously draped the flag over guitarist Janick Gers' face as he soloed.  Another headdress change for 1984's "Powerslave," and the band returned to The Book of Souls following a Dickinson monologue on the state of politics and the possibility that civilization as we know it could disappear as inexplicably as the Mayans' did.

During the band's performance of The Book of Souls' title track, a giant monkey Eddie came out from the wings and stalked the stage, harassing band members and generally stomping around to much crowd enjoyment, until Dickinson climbed on a stone wall and tore its heart out, proceeding to then stuff the heart in the smoking cauldron he was singing into at the show's beginning. It was spectacle at its most excitingly absurd.

The band then ended the set proper with 1992's "Fear of the Dark," and "Iron Maiden" from the band's 1980 self-titled debut. For the encore, the band took on the classic "Number of the Beast," with giant Satanic statue, "Blood Brothers" from its 2000 album, Brave New World, and "Wasted Years," the last two songs under the backdrop of an enormous inflated Eddie head that engulfed the entire backdrop.

It was two hours of nonstop fury and fun, even if some of it was rendered with a healthy dose of camp. Six of the eleven songs on The Book of Souls were played, a generous helping of new Maiden. And while the band played many well-received tracks from their illustrious back catalog and it was understood that it could not possibly get to all of its classic cuts without resorting to an oldies circuit-style setlist, it seemed a bit curious, at least to this newcomer, that they played two songs off the band's first two, Di'Anno-fronted albums instead of songs such as "Aces High," "22 Acacia Avenue," or "Run to the Hills," which was conspicuously absent.

That said, it is a minor quibble, and one that in no way marred the evening's festivities. The newer songs blended seamlessly into the set and, in fact, sounded better, more energetic, and more powerful live than they do on record. For two hours, Iron Maiden ruled, no matter the decade of the songs performed. So again, yes. Yes, my new Maiden friend, I did enjoy it. I enjoyed it very much.



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June 21st 2017

I really like this type of concerts and enjoyed it well.

June 21st 2017

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