Ghosts of metal past: Maiden, Cooper opening night a scary good time

by Ryan Snyder

Only in the blinkered world of classic metal could a band base a new tour off of one that occurred 24 years earlier and still pull off something as imperative and formidable as Iron Maiden did on the opening night of their Maiden England tour. Based loosely on 1988’s Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour, the heavy metal legends’ June 21 date at Charlotte’s Verizon Amphitheatre with Alice Cooper dusted off a few of the band’s dormant classics over some of their more well-traveled material and went light on the polychromatic strobes and cans in favor of even more tangible

stage milieu. Despite a couple of hitches in the opening night’s technical program, the band still executed with the ferocity that accompanies their reputation as one of the two or three best live bands in metal.

For 35 years, Maiden has been as artfully escapist as they have subversively political, and the revisitation of the Seventh Tour of the Seventh Tour motifs created an alternate reality just across the pit. While those few hundred of the thousands in attendance were pouring buckets of sweat on the first day of summer, Maiden’s stage was arctic and barren save for a rotating arsenal of bewitched backdrops, each with a glaring, skeletal Eddie staring maliciously down on the audience. Later, the sword wielding, quasi-animatronic mascot of the band appeared during “The Trooper,” heralding the unveiling of the flame-spewing monolith during “The Number of the Beast.”

All the while, singer Bruce Dickinson and bassist Steve Harris charged around the stage like lunar-mad shamans, the band’s trio of guitars muddied in a mixing effort that was comparable to chimping in photography. Harris’ bass was only audible when standing completely outside the amphitheater, though his technical brilliance was worth standing out in the areas where only the low end would carry to behold.

Despite not playing “Hallowed Be Thy Name” for the first time since its release in 1982, the setlist was sonic porn for the enduring Maiden fan. The newest song was 1992’s “Fear of the Dark,” with the rest of the 17 songs from their 1988 release Seventh Son of A Seventh Son or earlier. Cooper’s set was a little more of the contemporary nature, even if the shock rocker’s material has remained essentially unchanged for the last two and a half decades.

Copper’s abbreviated set included a Gaga-esque number of wardrobe changes (appropriate considering he deviated from his normal program to cover “Born This Way” at Bonnaroo) — including a leather jacket with “New Song” emblazoned on the back to precede “I’ll Bit Your Face Off” — and a litany of bloodied stage props that Cooper used to threaten harm to both the audience and himself. Peculiar, considering how overly careful the 64-year-old Cooper was in descending the gothic tower on which he arrived to the stage, equipped with spider arms and sparks flying from his hands. Cooper’s theater of violence even worked the ghoulish, robed stagehands into the set as he was beheaded (the guillotine returned!) by one who then turned around to tweak a mic stand for his inevitable resurrection. Tipper Gore was afraid of this?

For all the word’s generic, clichéd qualities, “awesome” is still somehow the only single word that can adequately convey the often flabbergasting degree of nerdy pleasure that the pairing of Iron Maiden and Cooper offers. The experience, particularly Cooper’s set, is something like riding a horrorthemed rollercoaster at a derelict traveling fair: The general visual aesthetic might have been terrifying as a kid, but as an adult, it’s grotesquely cheesy fun.

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