It's easy to forget, amid the constant deluge of news about the cratering music industry, that a few lucky bands are thriving, seemingly oblivious to the realities of their peers and contemporaries. Long-running U.K. metal heroes Iron Maiden have to top that list.
Having sold over 100 million records over the course of their 30-year-career, Iron Maiden regularly play to crowds of 100,000 all over the world, so their sold-out date at Madison Square Garden may have felt to them like an intimate club show. But while many veteran metal acts would have to pad their set with classic hits and radio staples-and certainly Maiden themselves have gladly done that on prior tours-this two-hour show avoided the band's mid-to-late '80s (relative) commercial heyday entirely in favor of songs from the past decade and some deep-cut oldies. That nearly 20,000 people not only didn't mind but knew every word anyway is a testament to this band's durability.
So, no "Aces High" or "Run to the Hills" or "Two Minutes to Midnight," but a heavy helping of less-familiar-though, tellingly, not necessarily lesser-songs like "Wicker Man" and "Ghost of the Navigator" from 2000's Brave New World, 2003's "No More Lies," and "El Dorado," the lead single from their 15th album The Final Frontier, due in August. (After losing some momentum, and some key personnel, in the metal-unfriendly '90s, lead singer Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith returned for Brave New World, and it's clear that Iron Maiden want this portion of their career to have a legacy of its own.)
Dickinson, who hit the high notes and sprinted along the stage's catwalks like a metal-god frontman half his nearly 52 years, was nothing if not a cheerful master of ceremonies, riling up the Knicks' home arena with LeBron James taunts and, when an impressive one-third of the crowd identified themselves as Maiden show first-timers, offered a heartfelt welcome "to the family." Dickinson dedicated "Blood Brothers" to the late Ronnie James Dio and had no trouble getting thousands of heshers to shoot reverent devil horns heavenward in tribute.
Meanwhile, the three-pronged guitar attack of Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and new guy Janick Gers (he joined in '90 after Smith left, then stayed on after he returned) didn't show much mileage-related rust, either. And the die-hards starving for the old stuff were rewarded with "Wrathchild" from 1981's(pre-Dickinson) Killers and a set-closing barrage of early-'80s warhorses including "Iron Maiden" and the eternal "Number of the Beast," complete with a modest-sized hydraulic demon and roadies blasting dry ice.
And therein lies the evening's real disappointment. Is it too much to ask for a two-story cosmonaut Eddie (the band's awesomely undead mascot) to inflate from behind the stage and shoot lasers from his eyes? Is it wrong to have been expecting that? The stage itself, designed like a lunar module (or Mars rover?) in honor of the new album's outer-space motif, was teetering a little close to Max Fischer Players territory and the backdrop consisted of rotating Eddie-themed tapestries and cover art. And the band was joined during the "Running Free" finale by a 10-foot-tall dancing alien that looked like a District 9 prawn, only made of rubber. All perfectly fun and metal in their own right, but, honestly: tapestries? Iron Maiden have already proven themselves recession-proof and even death-of-the-music-industry-proof; why not throw it around a little?
1. Wicker Man
2. Ghost Of The Navigator
4. El Dorado
5. Dance Of Death
6. The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg
7. These Colours
8. Blood Brothers
9. Wildest Dreams
10. No More Lies
11. Brave New World
12. Fear Of the Dark
13. Iron Maiden
14. Number of the Beast
15. Hallowed Be Thy Name
16. Running Free