Iron Maiden is approaching 50 years as a band. You would think that on this, the first Columbus show Iron Maiden has played in quite some time, the legends would rest on a setlist full of classics, a victory lap, a retirement party. That was simply not the case with Iron Maiden.
As we were waiting, and UFO’s “Doctor Doctor” blared to signal the start, Iron Maiden had already booked their next tour in 2023. No one was resting. For several long labyrinthine solos, the Maiden trident of guitarists Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, and Janick Gers, stole the show from their showstopping frontman, Bruce Dickinson, who has spent the bulk of those decades magnifying the energy of his band. There is an extreme balance in the live perfomances of Iron Maiden that posit them as one of the greatest shows on the planet. That balance includes the virtuoso metal compositions of such a skilled, veteran troupe, the intentional theatrics of the group’s immortal voice, and a firm grip on the kind of stagecraft that wows audiences half their age.
The inherent, enduring, strength of a band like Iron Maiden is the number of paths that lead to their fandom. There’s the standard issue, misanthropic, teenage burnouts enthralled by their proto-thrash and anti-authoritarian beginnings. The deep Sam Ash–centric listeners, who are attracted to the technicality of the playing, that dense guitar power, the complex battery of bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nico McBain. The geeks and D&D apostates who appreciate the immense world-building, historical fiction nuts, WWI enthusiasts. Or someone like myself who always heard Maiden, but found them too late in my formative years to worship the way I do now. It’s a learned fandom.
I learned, journeyed through the discography, and came out an addict. If we are going by sabermetrics, Iron Maiden is the furthest I’ve ever traveled for a live show. But what can we say about Iron Maiden post-pandemic? Or about gigantic arena extravaganzas in general? The Legacy of the Beast Tour answered those questions quite spectacularly.
They’ve got a phone game now. A documentary. Bruce did a spoken word tour. Beer. An insanely great pinball machine—in fact if this show had been on a Thursday, we would’ve had to cancel our usual pinball league. But wow, as exhaustingly ubiquitous as Iron Maiden tries to be, it’s in their live show that they’ve earned their tenure.
Let’s consider Maiden as a psychedelic experience now. I’ve never considered what they do “psych” per se, but this balance that I’m absolutely sincere about, elicits new dimensions, especially with the increased budget (or technology) they’ve felt necessary for this brave new world. During their two-hour show, the stage impressively shifted with three-dimensional projections from feudal Japan (for an opening suite from their latest album Senjutsu), to a mammoth stained-glass cathedral, a foggy, witch-burning on a distant hill, and finally with a Submarine Spitfire jet flying overhead for “Aces High.” It was high art, especially when the band came back from the slog of a missive choice in “Blood Brothers,” to play “Flight of Icarus,” with Dickinson employing a flame-thrower from both hands, throwing clouds of fire into the sky. Despite some odd choices—“The Clansman” for one—and a few signs of age in their endurance, the themes segued perfectly, creating a hyper-sensory opera of heavy metal and special effects. It was truly like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
And almost 50 years on, amidst global inflation, rising ticket prices, audiences being extra discriminate with their entertainment dollars, there seems to be no want for Iron Maiden to scale things back. They seem intent on building for the future legacy, rather than rehashing the past. In that ideal—that Maiden will survive long after they are gone—I’m deeply indebted. Up the irons forever.