British heavy-metal legend Iron Maiden has never gone light on theatrics.
Its entire output intertwines fantasy, history and literature with imagery of its time- and space-trotting skeletal mascot Eddie. The group’s online phone game — “Legacy of the Beast,” which gives its current tour its title — makes use of these worlds; and with no new album to promote, the game literally set the stage for its biggest stage production yet.
After a set by opener Raven’s Age (Maiden founder Steve Harris’s son George’s band), the headliner took to the stage in grand fashion Monday at PNC Music Pavilion: Frontman Bruce Dickinson sang “Aces High” in an aviator hat and goggles (a version of which was available at the merch booth) as a near-life-size replica of a British World War II Spitfire plane hovered above the stage.
With the stage dressed in dark, leafy netting to replicate the battlefield feel, the band charged through “Where Eagles Dare,” “2 Minutes to Midnight” and “The Clansman.” Dickinson, who has not lost any vocal prowess at age 60, was quick to clarify that the latter song is set in Scotland, and “it’s important that you spell it right.”
“The Clansman” — impressive for its intricate three-guitar fingerpicking — was one of two songs from the two ’90s albums Maiden made without Dickinson, when Blaze Bayley was fronting the band. Until “Legacy of the Beast” launched in May 2018, neither had been played live since the early ’00s.
Several songs have been reintroduced into the set for this tour, including 1983’s “Flight of Icarus.” Although the setlist is certainly no secret, since this tour already made its way through Europe and the UK in 2018, Dickinson’s confirmation that there’d be “no new songs” was met with cheers.
Even as rain started to fall, the battlefield portion of the show concluded on a high note, with fan favorite “The Trooper.” A sword-wielding Dickinson — showing off his famous fencing skills — bested a towering Eddie (decked out as a Revolutionary War soldier) and even waved the American flag.
For “Revelations,” the stage morphed into an old European cathedral, with an ornate stained-glass backdrop depicting Eddie in various scenes. The foxhole covering that hid Nicko McBrain’s drums — which were sunken into the cathedral’s “pulpit” — fell away, revealing an equally spectacularly decorated kit mimicking the colorful circular patterns of the stained-glass backdrop.
As the rain began to wane, the religious themes and medieval imagery continued through “For the Greater Good of God,” “The Wicker Man” and “Sign of the Cross,” which showcased dynamics and range in a way that wasn’t as present on its 2012 and 2017 stops in Charlotte.
The most extravagant set-piece (next to the Spitfire) was the giant winged Icarus. Dickinson roamed the stage with a flame thrower strapped to his back (it was momentarily amusing when it only emitted puffs of smoke, but he quickly got the pack working again). Aside from the larger-than-life set-pieces, the lighting and staging helped bring “Legacy’s” mythical worlds to life and provided plenty of fodder for amateur phone photographers.
Although there were rumors circulating from the staff that a coming storm would shut the show down early, that never happened. It was a blessing, given that it was the best Maiden offering since its return to Charlotte (after a 20-year absence) in 2012.
You could quibble about the omission of Maiden classics like “Wasted Years,” but sound-wise, production-wise, and playing- and singing-wise, this was the show that Maiden fans have been waiting for.