Friday, September 6, 2013

Iron Maiden's goulish presence lights Bridgestone Arena ablaze

Dave Murray, Steve Harris, and Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden unleash a torrent of heavy metal at Bridgestone Arena.

There are no shortage of bands who try to turn their live show into a visual spectacle, but some know how to do it better than others. Realizing that pretty imagery can only go so far, British heavy metal legends Iron Maiden employ a laser like focus upon every aspect of their show, from the stage setup and pyro straight down to the setlist and onstage acrobatics. They pay homage to the rich history of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene from which they sprung, idolizing the street smart back alleyway British punk clad in black leather.  This is a stunning live event the likes of which only Maiden could pull off, designed to dazzle your senses on every level.

The theme for the Maiden England tour, which hit Nashville's Bridgestone Arena Thursday night, is based on their 1988 album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, a synth laden futuristic fantasy concept album touching on themes of evil, magic, and superstition. The back half of the stage was filled with platforms designed to look like icy glaciers, resembling the ones seen on the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album cover. The scene was complete with a ghoulish Eddie zombie peering down from the back wall.

Frontman Bruce Dickinson burst onto the glaciers clad in his long, flowing coattails for set opener "Moonchild," looking like the tour guide for a historic British battleground. The entire band put on a acrobatic and high energy performance, never lacking a sense of great showmanship. Guitarist Janick Gers kept throwing his leg up on the balustrade beside him while playing, while Dickinson dashed around atop the glaciers and twirled his mic stand into the air with a great sense of precision. He addressed the crowd early on, who was clearly hungry for their Maiden. The band hit Municipal Auditorium a handful of times on their 1980s tours, but their last Nashville area date took place at Starwood Amphitheater in 1991. He also stoked their anticipation for events to come later in the night. "Hopefully the building can survive," he kidded. "Nevermind. Could use a new roof anyway."

Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson tells it like it is.
Maiden gave fans plenty of reasons to bring the rafters down with the sheer power of their musicianship alone. The setlist was packed with plenty of short punchy jabs designed to get your body rocking. Turbo charged protest anthem "2 Minutes to Midnight" burst loud and clear from the amplifiers, while the slick and synth laden rocker "Can I Play with Madness" tells the story of a young man's encounter with a devious prophet. They delved deeper into their back catalog for "The Prisoner," a defiant and triumphant tune that was preceded by a clip from the television series of the same name.

However, the band's most impressive performances came on the longer numbers. Guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Gers showed off their stunning ability to syncopate their timing and actions around one another when they launched into the complex, gyrating rhythms of old school standard "Phantom of the Opera," while the closing coda of "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" featured dueling guitar harmony godly enough to make Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana snap their guitar strings in envy. Dickinson's vocals were powerful, booming, and almost always on point. Some of the high notes in "The Trooper" seemed to escape him, and some general wear was evident in his voice as the night wore on, but otherwise he was nothing short of stellar. His most impressive moment came when he let loose a low, ringing, haunting howl on heartfelt ballad "Fear of the Dark."

There was no lack of great visual moments either. Whether it was giant ghoulish sphinxes, demonic beasts in the background, or crazed zombie air pilots, there was always something to delight the eyes and ears. It was Dickinson himself, however, who delivered the most iconic moments of the night, triumphantly waving the U.K. flag during "The Trooper," and donning an aviator's helmet during the soaring power metal anthem "Aces High."

Bay Area thrash metal heroes Megadeth warmed the seat for Maiden, and put on a ravaging performance of their own. Dave Mustaine and crew brought plenty of headbanging and ripping solos, interspersed with video clips of Wayne's World characters referencing the band. They tore through a brisk nine song setlist in less than an hour, pausing only for Mustaine to briefly address the crowd before the final song, "Holy Wars... The Punishment Due." Always a politically charged songwriter, he took time to espouse his opposition to U.S. involvement in the Syrian situation. It was hard to hear what he said after that because some guy the row down from us started loudly bellowing about how Obama sucks penis. He also reached out to the home crowd by mentioning that he had briefly lived in Nashville.

The real show stealer, however, was guitarist Chris Broderick. He incinerated the airspace with jaw dropping solos on "Symphony of Destruction" and most notably on "Tornado of Souls," an ardent fan favorite just based on its guitar solo alone. The short set made it hard to feel like fans were getting the full Megadeth experience, but they made the best of the time they had. 

Chris Broderick and Dave Ellefson of Megadeth shred the night away.
Related posts:

Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier review
Megadeth - Th1rt3en review

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