[Correction: An early version of this article listed Megadeth's second guitarist as "Shawn Colver." This is incorrect; the guitarist is actually Chris Broderick. The review has been updated.]
There's really no other band in the world quite like Iron Maiden. With no real number-one hits or mainstream success in its almost 40-year history, the band has still managed to influence practically every rock band that exists and become one of the most enormous musical acts on the face of the Earth. A large part of this is due to Maiden's reputation as one of the greatest live shows you could ever witness. But this is St. Louis on a Sunday night and it's muggy outside. Can this show really live up that all that hype?
Does Bruce Dickinson have a gorgeous set of bangs?
Before we get to the spectacle that is Iron Maiden, let's deal with the touchy subject of the opener, Megadeth. For anyone used to your standard, never-ending metal shows, where five local bands are opening for four touring bands, it feels odd to arrive at a show and have the very first band of the night be someone as monstrous as Megadeth. The sun was still shining bright when founders Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson took the stage with those two other guys who probably don't get paid as much as they do.
Opening with a bang at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, the band went straight into the classic "Hangar 18" and although it was an exciting song to got things rolling, something immediately seemed off. Was it the terribly thin and shrill mix? Was it that Chris Broderick's guitar was loud and clear while Mustaine's was buried? Was it that the band was more appropriately dressed for furniture shopping than a metal show? We'll get to the answer in a minute.
Long gone are the days of Megadeth being fronted by a reckless, psychotic badass sneering in a black leather jacket, on the verge of blowing a fuse at any minute. Meet the new Dave Mustaine: He's a Republican and born again Christian. He wears that white puffy pirate shirt from that episode of Seinfeld. He looks like something that just got pulled out of a river. He looks like whichever one of the Housewives of California you wouldn't bang. I guess I'm glad you're sober Dave, but you sure were a lot cooler when you were all messed up.
Luckily, with the shortened opening slot, Mustaine didn't have too much extra time to talk about how Obama stages murders or how we live in "Nazi-America" or how much he loves his pet mini-horse or any of the other insane rants he has really (no, really) been making on stage in the recent past, and stuck to playing the hits. The band covered all the fan favorites including "Wake Up Dead," "Tornado of Souls" and "Sweating Bullets," a song that has truly stood the test of time by still sounding goofy as shit twenty years later. By some sort of miracle, "King Maker" was the only song played from the new album Supercollider, and the band spared us from hearing its new single which is so corny it could have been the B-side of Tom Cochrane's "Life is a Highway." "King Maker" also carried a strong anti-drug and anti-drinking message with flashing images of pot leaves and car crashes, because I guess Dave sees a correlation there. Is that something anyone here really wants to be beaten over the head with while trying to let loose at an Iron Maiden concert before they've got to get back to work in the morning?
If I'm coming across as someone who simply dislikes Megadeth, please know that's not the case at all. I'm a huge fan and was very excited to see the band live again, but I found this set very disappointing. The setlist was solid enough and Chris Broderick's solos were flawless and slick, but most of the performance felt very half-assed, and as I said before something seemed a little off. It was the opening riff of the band's final song "Holy Wars... The Punishment Due" that made the issue obvious: All of these songs had been played in the wrong key. It seems the band recently adjusted all of its instruments from standard E tuning to D tuning to accommodate Mustaine's ever shrinking vocal range. If he is now unable to sing these songs properly then I don't really know what the answer is, but I don't think that dropping everything a full step lower than it's been for twenty-plus years makes much sense. Sorry Megadeth, but you blew it. The sign language lady at the front of the stage put on a better show. Dave Mustaine sticking around under the spotlight to soak up the applause and bow for a totally necessary second time didn't help matters much.
The house lights came up for a brief intermission as a few thousand went out to take a piss, and the stage was transformed into an icy landscape for the 25th anniversary of the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album. As the headbangers filed back into their seats and the anticipation grew I was struck with a familiar feeling. Standing in a crowd, unbearable excitement, fake ice in the summer heat... are we at Six Flags, about to ride the Mr. Freeze?
The lights went down, a bunch of shit exploded, and then there was Iron Maiden ripping straight into "Moonchild" like a rollercoaster racing straight toward the sky. The energy throughout the amphitheater was incredible. It felt like a wedding party, winning the lottery and meeting Santa Claus for the first time all at once. I don't think there was a blank expression in the house. Singer Bruce Dickinson covered every inch of the stage, running back and forth like a possessed magician with his arms flailing and his tailcoat flapping in the wind. His voice sounded every bit as good as it did on 1985's Live After Death album and his stamina was beyond impressive. When was the last time you saw a 55-year-old man leaping off monitors, waving flags and swords, singing while running at full speed and going generally bonkers without resting or missing a note? Give it a couple more decades and Dickinson will be selling juicers on TV and pulling boats with his teeth.
Review continues on the next page, with the set list for both bands.
"Can I Play with Madness?" was the next feat of endurance and kept with the band's Seventh Son theme. The triple guitar attack of Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers harmonized perfectly as bassist, founder and main songwriter Steve Harris commanded the stage with his point-the-bass-at-you-like-its-a-gun-or-something thing that he's been making look cool as shit for almost 40 years. All sound issues seemed to have been resolved and everything sounded warm and clear, with guitars, bass and vocals sitting perfectly in the mix with Nicko McBrain's drums punching their way through it all.
The anthems where unleashed, one after another, as various backdrops graced the stage, often accompanied by matching costumes, props and incarnations of band mascot Eddie to sync with the theme of each song. "The Number of the Beast" featured deep red lights and towers of flames reaching the roof, with an animatronic devil that looked like it could have come from the more expensive side of Johnnie Brock's Dungeon. An enormous lobotomized Eddie emerged from the stage with flames shooting from the top of his head and some kind of fleshy sack with a creature fidgeting around inside for "The Clairvoyant," also from Seventh Son.
And when a twelve foot tall civil war Eddie began staggering around the stage during "The Trooper," the girl next to me was so thrilled that she had tears in her eyes. This is church for metalheads. And while who is more "real" -- Jesus or Eddie -- could be up for debate, I can pretty safely assume that Dickinson easily could have convinced the audience to dance with live snakes around their necks to prove their faith in Iron Maiden, had he simply asked.
The set list was unreal. The newest song was from 1992 and nothing but fan favorites were played. Maiden has released four new studio albums since reuniting with Dickinson in the year 2000, the most recent being 2010's The Final Frontier, but the band stuck to all the classics that fans were itching to hear rather than promoting more recent work. That's pretty unheard of for a band so huge that it could play nothing but new songs on a tour and sell out crowds wherever it goes.
But this was a setlist that could have been lifted right off the stage of a tribute band. With over the top energy and enthusiasm, a circus of a stage show, a flawless performance and a bulletproof set list, Iron Maiden easily lived up to its reputation as one of the greatest live shows in rock music. The hour and a half set felt more like a celebration than a concert and the band seemed to have a genuinely great time while performing. It was truly the perfect big scale heavy metal show. May Maiden continue on for another 40 years.
Megadeth Hangar 18 Wake Up Dead In My Darkest Hour Sweating Bullets Kingmakers Tornado of Souls Symphony of Destruction Peace Sells Holy Wars... The Punishment Due
Iron Maiden Moonchild Can I Play With Madness? The Prisoner 2 Minutes to Midnight Afraid to Shoot Strangers The Trooper The Number of the Beast Phantom of the Opera Run to the Hills Wasted Years Seventh Son of a Seventh Son The Clairvoyant Fear of the Dark Iron Maiden Aces High The Evil That Men Do Running Free