Friday, July 13, 2012

Iron Maiden at the Prudential Center

Mayhem Fest? Forget it. Summer Slaughter? Nice try. You will not see a better show--club, park, arena, stadium or basement, than the one that Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper took to the Prudential Center last Monday.

Long lauded as one of the finest live acts in metal, Maiden only seem to get better as Nicko McBrain turns 60. Someone should hire the whole band as anti-drug spokesmen. Each of the bandmates turned in athletic performances that shamed anything Aerosmith, Van Halen, Black Sabbath or Judas Priest can pull off, to say nothing of nearly all artists young enough to be Steve Harris' children. Maiden's chops are nonpareil, and their stage set, a refinement of their 1989 Seventh Son of a Seventh Son tour spectacle, speaks volumes for the artistry of high-budget rock shows.

Of course there was also risk, which arrived in the form of one of rock music's most legendarily charismatic frontmen opening the show. The irreplaceable Cooper took the first set, packing all the best elements from the show he's spent his life perfecting into one ideal hour-long set. Little has changed about Alice since you last saw him, including the fact that no one plays theatrical shock-rock as well as he does. The swordplay, chambers, guillotine and Frankenstein's monster were all there, along with some staged routines with the road crew and a reliably hit-heavy setlist. His band, all of whom looked younger than Welcome to My Nightmare, indulged in the fun.

As a showman, Alice is refreshingly old school. More than a harbinger to Rob Zombie, he's a throwback to Screamin' Jay Hawkins, dead set on delivering the best show that music and Halloween props can give you. Closing with "School's Out," Cooper added the chorus to "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" to the finale. It clarified both his influence on Pink Floyd and the fact that he articulated school life better than Roger Waters.

Following Alice Cooper's act would be devastating anything less than the very best artists, but Maiden passed with flying Union Jacks. Entering to "Moonchild," the band embarked on a two-hour set of their best songs. "The Number of the Beast," "Wasted Years" and "2 Minutes to Midnight" are all pillars of metal, yet underappreciated by anyone who's never seen them performed by their sculptors.

Bruce Dickinson, arguably metal's greatest frontman to this day, egged the crowd on like a showbiz pro, taking a friendly jabs at our upcoming holiday (the one where we declared independecne from his country) between acing every note of his larynx-pushing vocals. Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers perpetually slung their guitars around their shoulders, racing up and down the stage set while joined by Eddie's likeness on a Sphinx, monumental statues and a zombie soldier. It was the kind of show that only a few bands can compete with, none of whom come close to Maiden's songcraft.

Iron Maiden tours seem to rotate between "classics" and "new songs" setlists, and with all respect to The Final Frontier, the band is best seen playing their best songs. In their compositional prime, Maiden's were as un-wanky as power metal gets, with relatively relaxed solos and only a few songs hitting the eight-minute mark. By re-enacting their Seventh Son tour with better proficiency and production values, Maiden blessed us with rarely-played tracks from the 1988 release alongside stompers like "Run to the Hills" and "The Trooper." Rules were bended to include '90s glories like "Fear of the Dark" and "Afraid to Shoot Strangers," lest you believe it was a nostalgia show.

After an encore that break wasn't long enough to find a bathroom, Maiden returned with "Aces High." Ending by appeasing Paul Di'Anno fans with "Running Free," the band bowed and left the dazed audience to find our way out while "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" played on the arena PA. If you only see one metal band, try Iron Maiden, and if you only see them once, now is the time.

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