It’s been five years since Iron Maiden kicked off its 2012 US tour in Charlotte and Friday’s show at PNC Music Pavilion was in some ways quite different than the legendary UK band’s last time there (then Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre).
The 2012 show was more of a career-spanning set that hit on the band’s biggest global hits, while 2017’s Book of Souls Tour draws on the band’s 2015 album of the same name with an elaborate Mayan temple-inspired faux stone set for singer Bruce Dickinson to sprint across and stage the show’s more theatrical segments.
At one point during the album’s title track he battles a Mayan version of Eddie, the band’s mascot who towers at least six feet over the members (he’s too agile for a puppet, so my guess is a costumed stilt-walker?) Eddie casually marched across the stage inciting the crowd with lewd gestures and mock pummeling of band members.
Dickinson eventually rips Eddie’s heart out and tosses it into the crowd (much like in the Iron Maiden game repeatedly advertised between bands). Musically the song is one of the show’s standouts, along with perennial crowd favorite “The Trooper,” during which Dickinson donned his red military uniform and waved the Union Jack.
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The place was packed with Dickinson guessing some 16,000 fans from the Carolinas and surrounding states – a testament to the group’s legend and longevity. Dickinson noted – in the second somewhat awkward reference to sex I’d not anticipated in the company of my 8 year old (the first was during Ghost’s opening set) – that many fans weren’t born when “Children of the Dark” was recorded. And that’s true. The crowd ranged in age from 6 to 60.
Ghost, the Grammy winning Swedish metal band, were a fitting opener given the theatrical nature of the show. Its members (known as ghouls) wore horned masks and sleek black, while leader and vocalist Papa Emeritus, looked less Evil Pope, more Phantom of the Opera in a sophisticated black suit with tails and white mask, which he adopted for its Popestar Tour.
His aforementioned introduction of the closer “Monstrance Clock” (a definite highlight of its set) was made less awkward in the presence of my son due to the sound, which often lacked clarity, blurring the instruments together during the songs. It made for boomy between song banter. The same was true of Maiden to a lesser degree, which was my biggest complaint during its 2012 show.
When I took my son to the restroom I noticed the individual instruments were much clearer and Dickinson’s vocals sailed on top of the mix. That made me wonder, having sat in the front section with few sound complaints prior, if clarity differed that much depending on where you’re seated. We were slight stage right toward the back of the covered shed.
Friends on the lawn had few complaints aside from Dickinson dropping out at times, while others close to the stage said it sounded great.
Dickinson will be 59 in August and moves like he’s 30. Fifty-somethings like Madonna get a lot of accolades for their physicality on stage, but, while they may not be as pretty, the guys in Iron Maiden (who are mostly in their early sixties) fall into that age-defying category as well – without backing tracks.
Dickinson also exhibited uncharacteristic goofiness (at least for a metal show of its caliber). During “Death and Glory,” he wore a monkey mask and a monkey puppet wrapped around his neck in reference to the line “Climbed like a monkey out of hell where I belong.”
He not only wore the mask, but made like a monkey, pretending to scratch his butt, swinging his arms and hopping. He even pulled a banana from his hoodie and offered it to guitarist Dave Murray during his solo. I looked it up to make sure this wasn’t an isolated event. It is not.
Although the set consisted of a lot of “The Book of Souls” album, with occasional blasts from the past (“Fear of the Dark,” and the encore of “The Number of the Beast” and “Wasted Years”) most fans didn’t seem to mind, declaring Maiden the best live band and best live show they’ve seen online afterward.
Given its level of energy, chops, and the massiveness of its global audience, there’s really no reason for retirement any time soon.