Philadelphia has waited 26 years for a proper Iron Maiden concert. Area appearances since No Prayer for the Dying have been relegated to a tacky outdoor amphitheater in nearby Camden, NJ. When it was announced that Maiden were bringing The Book of Souls tour to the indoor Wells Fargo Center, fans responded by selling out the venue.
Sold out shows across the world are the norm for Iron Maiden. North American crowds haven’t faired so well…. especially in a fickle city like Philadelphia. Previous stops in amphitheater hell revealed large splashes of green in a largely empty field. Casual fans sat with arms crossed as they waited to hear “The Trooper.” It’s little wonder that Maiden skipped over our region during the Dance of Death and Final Frontier tours.
Something has changed in Philly. This was not a classics tour but a show expressly designed to promote a new record. Yet, the Maiden faithful gathered in full force on a Sunday night. Over 21,000 metal fans threw concerns of school and work aside and packed into the Wells Fargo Center to hear a set largely comprised of material from The Book of Souls.
Opening act Ghost was impressive as always. I last saw this band open for Opeth in support of Opus Eponymous. Since that time, they have evolved into seasoned vets. Papa Emeritus commanded the stage with a calm, confident presence, freely talking to the crowd with his comic shtick. Part theater, part rock band, Ghost are true professionals that stand poised to become the next metal giants.
By the time UFO’s “Doctor Doctor” came over the PA the crowd was in fine form. People stomped their feet and chants of Maiden filled the arena. Anticipation was heavy as the lights went down and a digital Eddie appeared on giant movie screens.
At the film’s conclusion, a taped intro to “If Eternity Should Fail” kicked off the set. Standing high above Nicko’s drum set, Bruce consulted “the shaman again” as he peered into a smoking cauldron. Each phrase sang by Dickinson echoed through the arena in a dramatic buildup to the latest Iron Maiden epic!
Finally the band kicked in. Harmony guitars swirled over the rhythm section of Nicko and Steve Harris. All around me fists pumped as fans shouted each word back to Bruce. Philadelphia had undergone a paradigm shift. This sold-out crowd came not only to hear the classics, but also sing along to NEW Maiden.
Iron Maiden have finally found a comfortable balance with a modern setlist. Previously, the band had a bizarre fixation on keeping past and present separate. Older fans typically had to wait until a “classics” tour to hear songs from their youth. While the band DID play older material when supporting new releases, those songs were limited to expected fare like “Fear of the Dark.” This time around, deep cuts “Wrathchild,” “Children of the Damned” and “Powerslave” co-existed with a healthy sampling of tracks from The Book of Souls.
Out of the six tracks played from The Book of Souls, the title track was a highlight. To recreate the intro and outro, Janick had an acoustic guitar handy. Draped by Steve Harris droning an E note, the two cut quite a figure on the darkened stage. Yet, it was the main riff’s groove that got the audience moving. I kid you not, there were women dancing to Iron Maiden!
“The Book of Souls” featured Eddie’s first appearance! A Mayan themed Eddie stalked the stage, lifting an ax and playing it up for the crowd. As the band engaged in guitar histrionics, the timeless mascot moved stage left to battle with Bruce.
Dickinson seemed particularly playful this night. Perhaps it was a response to the enthusiastic sold-out crowd, but he smiled and laughed as Eddie threatened to behead him with an ax. Alas, Bruce managed to get a leg up on the undead one. Out came Eddie’s heart as the triumphant singer raised the bloody organ for all to see.
Keeping with tradition, Eddie’s grand finale was unveiled during “Iron Maiden.” His giant head inflated as Bruce shouted, “SCREAM FOR ME PHILADELPHIA!” The crowd obliged. Eddie bobbed back and forth like a macabre hot air balloon before going up in a puff of smoke.
The band was in a playful mood all night. This was evident in closer “Wasted Years.” Bruce made a game of taunting poor Adrian. Each time Smith attempted to sing, Dickinson moved the mic stand away. Eventually Adrian just took to goofing around and pushed the mic around with his nose. A bemused Dave Murray came over and shouted some unheard commentary to Adrian with a giant grin on his face. After 35 plus years of touring, they still enjoy each other’s company…particularly on nights like June 4th, when the energy between band and audience align.
Overall, this was by far the best Iron Maiden concert I’ve had the pleasure of attending. My hope is they learn lessons here. Swear off the outdoor venues and bring the show inside. Celebrate the past, not by running through the same songs that get played EVERY tour, but by digging out rarely played gems. It will be hard to improve on this latest chapter, yet Iron Maiden are at the top of their game. The future still burns bright for the mighty Maiden!