Detroit,Michigan (October 9,2022)- Bruce Dickinson warned fans that Iron Maiden would be bringing Senjutsu to an arena near them when the metal legends resumed their Legacy of the Beast tour this year. “Everybody should know the first three tracks,” the singer said of the band’s thunderous 2021 album. “And we’ll have a stage set to go with it. Once you’ve done that, you’re back to the kind of Legacy world at that point.”
The British sextet has earned its iconic status in the hard rock world not through great commercial success (although it’s had some) but through durability, and a devotion to its particular brand of epic heavy metal and a reputation for a live spectacle that rivals Pink Floyd and KISS for its carefully woven blend of theatrics and sonic assault. And the group doesn’t do it very often — Sunday’s show was its first in the Detroit area in nearly six years and first since 1996 inside the Detroit city limits.
This time out Maiden was celebrating The Legacy of the Beast — 40 years since its landmark, The Number of the Beast album, as well as last year’s chart-topping “Senjutsu.” The two-hour show was “Exhibit A” for what makes Maiden legendary and beloved.
The 22000 plus fans that filled the Little Caesars Arena in the heart of Detroit took Dickinsons warning to heart and apparently did their homework. The sold-out crowd roared with ecstasy as the band plowed through Senjutsu’s first three songs in succession. The aggressive and angst driven title track closely followed by “Stratego” that featured the first sighting of the bands sword wielding mascot, Eddie, making his initial appearance in the Arena .The swooning “The Writing on the Wall,” wrapped up the power laden opening that had jubilant fans standing and echoing Dickinson’s soaring choruses back at him, word for word, heading the pseudo warning that he had playfully issued during the tour press conference.
Initially dressed in what resembled a black kimono and black leather pants, with his hair arrayed in traditional Japanese topknot style, Dickinson refused to let the crowd rest. Few vocalists embrace their role as showmen with more gusto, conviction or energy as the iconic frontman. Watching the 64-year-old convey the personas of various characters — or match the storylines with suitable attire and animated body language — conjured visions of a go-for-broke starving actor.
Whether carrying a lantern and passing for a Victorian Era gravedigger during “Fear of the Dark,” or spraying fire from a flamethrower while singing operatic-style verses on “Flight of Icarus,” or wielding a musket, waving a Union Jack flag and sporting a British red coat “Run to the Hills,” the vocalist helped bring extra dimensions to songs steeped in history, morality, warfare, anxiety and uncertainty. Though the top end of his range doesn’t quite hit the stratospheric highs it reached two decades ago, Dickinson demonstrated why he was once playfully deemed the “human air-raid siren” with multiple registers that would challenge singers his grand childrens age.
About halfway through Iron Maiden’s set Sunday night, frontman Bruce Dickinson spoke about some contest winners “from around the world” who were in attendance.
“They thought they were going to Hawaii for something — and they ended up in Detroit,” Dickinson noted. “But they came for an (f…in’) Iron Maiden show!” And it was certainly well worth the trip as was the show itself.
Able to navigate the intricacies of the multiple complex arrangements such as “Blood Brothers,” with the same prowess it struck up threatening spells of lighting and thunder during iconic “Iron Maiden,” the band showed no signs of settling into the comfort zones favored by peers prone to taking up Las Vegas residencies. Bolstered by a triple guitar front line in which each musician harbored a specific attribute, Iron Maiden played with vigorous purpose and balanced attack. At the center of it all: founding bassist Steve Harris, who used his bass guitar to maintain rhythms and sometimes lead, dictating the pace and suppling texture that has been featured in the bands live shows from the beginning.
The legendary group’s hallmarks were on full display throughout their 120-minutes on stage. Dual guitar harmonies, soaring melodies, galloping rhythms, dramatic vocals — informed older, more concise cuts as well as longer versions that shared some prog-rock DNA. The anthemic “The Writing on the Wall,” incorporated acoustic signatures and a vibrant cinematic presentation while “Sign of the Cross,” contrasted patience and time while maintaining the delicate, moody aura against the heavy pounding of the drum skins from Nicko McBrain.
Let’s not forget about Eddie, who made other appearances throughout the set. First as a large rear-stage inflatable during “Iron Maiden” and finally as a British redcoat during “The Trooper.” Each time feeding off the energy that permeated from the crowd that filled the arena and continually metastasized from the first guitar lick of the night.
For all the integrity it displayed, Iron Maiden never took itself too seriously and appeared to be having a great time in front of the filled capacity arena. Guitarists Adrian Smith and Dave Murray consistently traded off solos like a medal-winning relay team hands off a baton, frequently interacting with one another and the crowd in playful manners. Dickinson dueled with Eddie, haphazardly collided with Harris, pressed the plunger on a “Looney Tunes” styled detonator and wise cracked about the band’s age, at one point referring to the group’s first local appearance by asking: “Who was alive when we played Harpo’s back in ’81?”
Forty one years removed from that show Iron Maiden hasn’t lost its sense for fun, camaraderie, adventure or their flair for dramatic live presentations. As a life-size replica of a Spitfire plane maneuvered above them, a goggles and bomber hat-adorned Dickinson and company rolled, dove and turned through the set ending “Aces High” with an urgency that emphasized the circumstances facing the airborne squadrons honored the song itself.
While a 15-song show can only touch on a 45-year career, Iron Maiden checked the boxes on all the essentials — “Revelations,” “Hallowed Be Thy Name, “Flight of Icarus,” “The Number of the Beast,” “Iron Maiden” and “Run to the Hills” among them, ranging from mostly expansive opuses to occasional quick ‘n’ dirty rockers. It was one of those shows that will be talked about for years to come, a good thing since, if past practice holds, it may well be years before Maiden comes this way again.
Up the irons, indeed.