Metalheads from around the world are making the pilgrimage this weekend to the Coachella and Stagecoach festival grounds at Empire Polo Field in Indio, Ca., for the inaugural Power Trip — a three-night festival featuring Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Tool, AC/DC, and Judas Priest. GNR and Maiden got the party started last night (Oct. 6) on a day when temperatures soared above 100 degrees.
Iron Maiden celebrated its 48th year as a band in 2023 with the Future Past world tour, which culminated at Power Trip. Nobody would have been surprised had the band gone heavy on the hits, but instead, Maiden went with the same set it has been playing all year, which is dominated by new songs and deep cuts. Five of the 15 cuts were from the 2021 album Senjutsu, and when the band revisited the 1982 classic The Number of the Beast, it was with “The Prisoner” rather than the familiar “Run to the Hills” or the album’s title track. The choices delighted loyal fans (particularly those pressed up front) but seemed to leave those a little further back less enthused.
The set list notwithstanding, Iron Maiden’s performance was terrific. Guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gears were something to behold as they traded solo spotlights, while the rhythm section of bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain’s provided ample support for Bruce Dickinson’s theatrical vocals.
“Caught Somewhere in Time” was a great starting choice, as the guitar screams coincided with the blazing sun setting behind the mountains, and the brief appearance of the band’s mascot Eddie in a western gunfighter outfit made the song a complete microcosm of the Iron Maiden experience. Dickinson frequently engaged the audience throughout the night, with acceptance and togetherness being a common theme. “I don’t think anyone who is a Maiden fan cares about color or whatever. We are a family and we all get along” he said prior to “Death of the Celts” and after the band had delivered a rousing version of “The Prisoner.”
71-year-old McBrain showed no ill effects on this sweltering night, despite suffering a stroke earlier this year and recovering in time to play every show on the 2023 tour. Ozzy Osbourne’s health-related Power Trip cancellation was a reminder that time waits for no one, even in heavy metal, but while the crowd seemed tilted toward people in the late 40s and early 50s, there was a strong showing from younger generations likely introduced to this music through their parents (or grandparents).
Maiden wrapped the main set with a frenetic version of “Iron Maiden,” during which Eddie re-appeared to do mock battle with group members. The encore featured “The Trooper,” which received the loudest ovation of the night from the moment the opening notes were struck, and “Wasted Years,” before which Dickinson enthused, “every night is the best night of our lives.” At its conclusion, he told the audience, “we will see each of you again — I promise.”
Between acts, fans posed for pictures under giant cactus devil horns, rode the Polo Field’s famous Ferris wheel, and endured seemingly endless lines to buy merch. They needn’t have rushed back towards the stage, as Guns N’ Roses was 35 minutes late to begin its own set with “It’s So Easy” from Appetite for Destruction, the first of eight songs from the iconic 1987 album.
His punctuality notwithstanding, Axl Rose looked and sounded remarkably better than during the band’s 2021 and 2022 tours, during which Slash seemed to be holding down the proverbial fort. At 61, Rose’s one-of-a-kind voice was steady throughout the night, and the band seemed more like a unified force than a group of individuals brought back together merely for the financial rewards. Kudos go to guitarist Richard Fortus for his stage presence and six-string theatrics, as well as keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who delivered the crucial chords of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” and bassist Duff McKagan, who took the mic on the Stooges’ “T.V. Eye” to help Rose get a breather.
As always, Slash dazzled on guitar, from the propulsion of “You Could Be Mine” and echo-laced solo on “Rocket Queen” to a three-song stint where he mostly sat on the steps center stage to strum an acoustic for Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and GNR’s “Patience.” As the set approached the three-hour mark, Rose announced “the pain train is coming,” with drummer Frank Ferrer then blasting into “Nightrain.”
“We’ve just been informed that there is a curfew,” Rose told the crowd before launching into a premature closer of “Paradise City,” which was followed by fireworks bursting from the stage. Power Trip resumes today with Judas Priest opening for AC/DC, the latter performing with lead singer Brian Johnson for the first time in seven years.