For a band whose latest album and stage show reflect the mysterious evaporation of the Mayan civilization in relation to today's world that claims lives at a dizzying rate, Iron Maiden appear intent on sticking around. All while extolling to its legion of fans the fact that everything they love, including their favorite band, could go up in smoke at any time due to societal factors beyond their control.
That's what helped make Iron Maiden's return to San Antonio last night all the more special. Treating a venue-announced "estimated 13,000" at the AT&T Center to another explosive and Eddie-filled arsenal of classics and new material, the lads from England showcased that if they have anything to say about it, perhaps they'll continue from here to eternity.
"This is the best show in Texas," vocalist Bruce Dickinson declared as Maiden was on the heels of concerts Wednesday in Houston and Friday in Dallas. Iron Maiden's last three trips to the Alamo City have come inside the AT&T Center, this one culminating a stretch of 10 days in which heavy metal's two biggest bands paid a visit, with Metallica having played the Alamodome on June 14.
Touring in support of 16th album The Book of Souls, the band kicked off in eye-opening fashion with Dickinson -- wearing brown cargo pants and a gray hoodie -- sticking his head inside a steaming cauldron as he sang the intro to the latest record's 8 1/2-minute opening track "If Eternity Should Fail." Dickinson, the pilot of Iron Maiden's Ed Force One jetliner, concluded by stretching his arms wide as if he was about to take off. In essence, he did. As the song burst into gear, pyro sounded and Dickinson emerged with hood off, setting the tone for the rest of the evening as he ran, paraded and bounded throughout the stage for a large chunk of the next two hours. Were there ill effects of a man whose bout with tongue cancer forced Iron Maiden to postpone the first leg of its tour until six months after The Book of Souls' release Sept. 4, 2015?
While San Antonio had to wait until the second leg of the tour for Iron Maiden's return, its patience paid off. Guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers, bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain joined Dickinson in wreaking musical havoc through six new songs and nine classics (setlist in slideshow). Dickinson screamed out the intro to second song "Speed of Light" before the familiar strains of Harris' bass on "Wrathchild" sounded throughout the arena.
The vocalist addressed the audience thereafter, declaring that 1982 was "a pretty good year." Of course, that's when Dickinson made his debut with the band on the album still regarded as Maiden's measuring stick -- The Number of the Beast. San Antonians spent the past year voting for their top all-time Maiden tunes in an AXS poll (story here), with three of the top five coming from that album. Alas, Iron Maiden delved into a different track, "Children of the Damned," which is never a poor selection either.
Newer tracks meshed seamlessly among Maiden's classics, particularly the 13 1/2-minute "The Red and the Black," a tune that allowed Dickinson a brief respite backstage as his four mates enjoyed the instrumental spotlight portion of the song to themselves. A disappointing aspect of all Maiden shows is that McBrain sits so low on his kit, he's only visible when he peers out briefly between songs or via big-screen cameras perched above his head. Still, when Maiden's three guitarists and Harris come to the forefront, it's an act of solidarity and musicianship second to none in metal.
Classic mainstays such as "The Trooper" and first encore "The Number of the Beast" are always etched in metal history and get better live with age. Interspersed was, of course, the appearance of The Book of Souls version of Eddie. Dickinson introed the title track with, "You're not really that far from the Mayan civilization right here near the border, are you? With all the technology and all the money in the world, how did we manage to f--- everything up? With all the shit going on in the world, if you think next week is going to be here . . . Well, think of the Mayans. Look what happened to them."
Gers and Eddie had their traditional entertaining spat, with the guitarist running back and forth between the towering mascot's legs only to have Eddie affix his weapon at Gers' neck. Eddie then made his way over to Dickinson, who simply ripped out the mascot's heart and showed it to the crowd as pyro again dotted the stage.
Dickinson wasn't all serious with his speeches, however. Verbal or otherwise. He donned a luchador mask throughout "Powerslave" and at one point said it was raining in his pants -- due to his incessant and energetic travels around the stage.
As usual, the vocalist hailed those in the crowd from all over the world, pointing out fans from Mexico, Colombia and England, each of whom were near members of the Iron Maiden San Antonio Fan Club. Dickinson used the opportunity, as Metallica's James Hetfield did 10 days earlier, to discount race, religion and point of origin as being important and relevant factors when assessing the band's, and heavy metal's loyal following. That gave way to "Blood Brothers," a staple in the band's set since its release in 2000 but a somewhat surprising choice on this night as the second encore.
Maiden could be credited with giving popular tunes such as "Run to the Hills" and "Running Free" an overdue rest. Though the inclusion of rarely played oldies such as "Sea of Madness" or "Tailgunner" would've been welcome and unpredictable selections, Iron Maiden understandably emphasized its latest album. And that wasn't exactly a bad thing.
Much like Iron Maiden sticking around another decade or so wouldn't be either.