Iron Maiden’s Legacy of the Beast Tour Is the Pinnacle of Heavy-Metal Escapism
A few songs into Iron Maiden’s set at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Saturday night, frontman Bruce Dickinson waged an onstage swordfight with a nine-foot-tall undead creature dressed as a British soldier. As the singer and the monster — a walking incarnation of the band’s trusty mascot, Eddie — dueled, the group’s five other members burned through “The Trooper,” Maiden’s pulse-quickening 1983 ode to the exhilaration and peril of 19th-century warfare. The scene was pure multimedia spectacle, absurd yet undeniably awesome — in other words, Iron Maiden in a nutshell.
It’s hard to imagine a more quintessentially Maiden-y Maiden show than the one that came to Brooklyn this past weekend, and will make its way across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico during the next two months. Titled Legacy of the Beast, the tour is, as Dickinson explained early in the night, pure fan service, a retrospective set with no songs newer than 2006 and most dating from the 44-year-old band’s 1980s heyday. (Though, during the same monologue, the singer promised that the band would eventually be back on the road with new material, a slightly touchy topic since Maiden controversially supported their ’06 album A Matter of Life and Death by playing it front-to-back on tour.)
Focusing on the past for this run has allowed the band to stretch out, touching on deep cuts like “Flight of Icarus,” which prior to Legacy of the Beast’s kickoff last year hadn’t been played live since 1986. But the show’s central element is really the staging, a gloriously over-the-top production — think EPCOT Center meets big-budget jukebox musical — that starts out at full bore, with a huge World War II–era plane replica soaring over the stage during the Battle of Britain–themed “Aces High,” and never skimps on the eye candy during the two hours that follow. Thanks to Dickinson’s tireless physicality and the band’s constant crowd engagement, the scenery never felt empty.
The Barclays Center stage transformed constantly, from a military bunker concealed by leaves and camouflage to a stained-glass-framed cathedral with chandeliers overhead, a spooky graveyard complete with rolling mist, and finally, during “The Number of the Beast,” what looked like the entrance to hell itself, with a sinister mouth flanking the band and, later, a big, blow-up Eddie-as-Satan head. (The character appeared on the backdrop in countless guises throughout the night, from Braveheart warrior during freedom-fighting epic “The Clansman” to the Wicker Man for the 2000 song of the same name, illustrating that no band has ever gotten more mileage out of a mascot.) “Flight of Icarus” came complete with an enormous faux-stone replica of the title character that, appropriately, took to the air above Dickinson — who wielded dual flamethrower gloves like some kind of Marvel supervillain — and came crashing down at the song’s end. Given all this insanity, is it any wonder that the band recently channeled its mythos into a mobile video game?
What might seem on paper like a desperate attempt to hold on to a bygone standard of arena-scale dazzlement is an absolute blast to behold, thanks to a few interrelated factors. First, there’s the band’s unmistakable joy in performance. Dickinson remains his genre’s most charismatic, fun-to-watch frontman — the closest thing heavy metal has to an ageless Mick Jagger figure. From the second he bounds onstage to the moment he exits, the 60-year-old is a combination of diva, athlete, actor, and ham, inhabiting the songs’ high drama with a still-formidable rock-operatic belt — almost more poignant now because you can hear a hint of strain as he reaches into his upper register — and swashbuckling, Errol Flynn-like vigor, as though the stage were the set of his own personal action film.
On Saturday, he brandished a sword during the set’s first, war-themed chapter (even making the rounds of the stage to give various band members a pat on the butt), held up an oversize illuminated crucifix during “Sign of the Cross” (one of two songs in the set from the mid-to-late Nineties era when Dickinson was temporarily replaced by Blaze Bayley), explored the stage wearing a silver plague-doctor mask and carrying a lantern during “Fear of the Dark,” and fled mini explosions on an elevated platform in the final moments of show-closer “Run to the Hills.” Meanwhile, his bandmates fanned out in attack formation across the stage, each member engaging the crowd in his own way, from Steve Harris’ faux-machine-gun bass moves to Janick Gers’ constant parade of stage-left antics — whipping his guitar around his body or skipping across the stage like a care-free child in a field — and Dave Murray’s crouching-with-one-leg-extended guitar-solo heroics.
The other element of the live Maiden equation is of course the fans. They remain a massive — as Dickinson announced, close to 30,000 turned out this past weekend between the two Barclays shows — and exuberant tribe that on Saturday pogoed in sync with Gers and Harris, and happily complied with the singer’s frequent cries of “Scream for me, Brooklyn!” Along with the expected groups of middle-aged men, many couples and families with young kids could be seen beaming, hugging, high-fiving, and throwing the devil horns. If there’s still a memo going around regarding not wearing a band’s T-shirt to their own show, around 70 percent of Saturday’s crowd didn’t get it, many of them clad in NYC-specific Legacy of the Beast shirts showing Eddie flying over the Brooklyn Bridge and shooting flames à la Dickinson.
During one mic break, the singer expressed mock-amazement that so many people had turned out for a Maiden show in 2019: “Heavy metal? Still alive in the 21st Century?! Someone alert the media.” He paused, and then revised his statement. “Actually, fuck the media. … We don’t need the media; all we need is you.” Later, he scolded a front-row fan for filming him on a smartphone: “I’m a real person!” The takeaway seemed to be that it’s taken the band and its die-hards four-plus-decades to build this shared space apart from the mainstream, so let’s not allow intrusive technology to screw it up.
If the action on the stage and the enthusiasm in the crowd were the fire, the songs were the spark. With each passing year, Maiden’s music seems to stand further apart from the prevailing currents of heavy metal, which has trended toward the frantic rush of death and black metal, or a doomy post-Black Sabbath churn. In contrast, high-drama Maiden classics like “Where Eagles Dare” and “Two Minutes to Midnight” with their swaggering, almost jaunty cadences — driven by drummer Nicko McBrain’s crafty ride cymbal accents and masterfully unhurried feel — or “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” with its folk-like, chant-worthy guitar melody, almost seem closer to old sea shanties than anything resembling what metal has become, or, for that matter, the heavy blues-rock it sprung from.
That sense of the archaic also pervades slow-burning epics like A Matter of Life and Death’s “For the Greater Good of God” and 1992’s “Fear of the Dark,” both of which juxtapose sing-song melody with raging hard-rock pay-offs. The relatively punky, immediate “Iron Maiden” — which led off the band’s landmark 1980 debut and closes the main Legacy of the Beast set — is the closest the 2019 version of the band gets to anything particularly earthy; for the most part this is a band that has always aimed at a loftier, more dramatic sound, and this show seems designed to drive home that core Maiden aesthetic.
After all the jumbo props, the set changes, the plumes of pyro, what else was there to do? During the “Run to the Hills” finale, a big red box labeled “TNT” appeared on the riser above McBrain’s drums. The song ended, and Dickinson jammed down the plunger that was attached, setting off a mini fireworks shower. It was a fittingly cheeky ending — more Looney Tunes than Grand Guignol — to a show that felt like the pinnacle of heavy-metal escapism, slapstick and sincerity in perfect yin-yang alignment. The standard rock narrative tells us that this kind of thing died off decades ago, as the excessive Eighties gave way to the tortured Nineties; the Legacy of the Beast tour would beg to differ.
Iron Maiden Set List
“Where Eagles Dare”
“2 Minutes to Midnight”
“For the Greater Good of God”
“The Wicker Man”
“Sign of the Cross”
“Flight of Icarus”
“Fear of the Dark”
“The Number of the Beast”
“The Evil That Men Do”
“Hallowed Be Thy Name”
“Run to the Hills”