Arena-metal shows are rarely surprising. And last night’s Iron Maiden gig at Bridgestone Arena — the relentlessly British band’s first Nashville appearance in 21 years — was no exception. That’s not a bad thing at all. With shockingly potent Maiden live clips from recent years in mind, The Spin went into last night’s show with high expectations (as well as a little high) and left drunk on life (and on alcohol), beaming with satisfaction after spending 100 straight minutes watching the well-oiled band rip through a trove of guitarmony-replete shredders while our jaws were plastered to the floor. We were like little kids leaving our first birthday party at a Medieval Times. We also left feeling as though we’d spent over an hour riding a galloping horse.
From the precise, highly charged, ceaselessly entertaining, note-perfect performance to an equally inspired and inspiring stage production and an absolutely stellar set list (“Phantom of the Opera,” anyone? Hello?), we really can’t stress enough how impossibly flawless this show was.
And then there was consummate frontman Bruce Dickinson. The voice (glass-shatteringly high, unwaveringly un-pitchy and loud enough to crisply and clearly project over the already tinnitus-inducing volume of the band); the ring-leader banter and constant crowd hyping (if we’d played a “Scream for me, Nashville!” drinking game, we’d have been dead before the band played “The Trooper”); and then there were the moves. The fuckin’ moves, man: wing-to-wing stage sprints followed by firm-crouched fighting stances and comically, awesomely exaggerated gestures that looked not unlike a sword-wielding sorcerer in a 90-mph windstorm. The 55-year-old Dickinson’s indomitably energetic physical, vocal and performance prowess is, simply put, a golden middle finger to Mother Fucking Nature. How he can hit high notes while sprinting across a catwalk without running out of breath or tripping and tumbling 10 feet to the stage below we’ll never know. Like any seasoned, fastidious veteran metal frontman, Dickinson is a boundlessly captivating caricature of himself. We say that with nothing but love. Even still, when it came to sheer entertainment — at least in our opinion — guitarist Janick Gers stole the show, keeping us in stitches all night with stage moves fit for a Reagan-era aerobics video: high kicks, literally dizzying full-body twirls and other neat tricks. Gers is a man of many talents, to be sure.
And of course, to offset the stage’s Arctic-looking design, there was the fire — more varied and explosive pyro than you can shake an extinguisher at. The heat was so intense we could literally feel it from our perch in a private skybox across the arena. And what Maiden show would be complete without animatronic mascots and walking puppets? Of course there was Eddie, who at one point emerged from out of fog and flames like a not-so-frightening zombie, not to mention a towering, walking-dead General Custer stomping around the stage during “Run to the Hills.” Like, a guy in a twice-the-size-of-a-full-grown-man skeleton puppet outfit. Sure, why not?
Even without all that crap, Maiden could’ve kept the crowd’s attention on the strength of the songs alone. Across the arena there were metalheads lost in their own world, listening to the hypnotic wash of guitarmonies more than they were watching the spectacle; air drumming to Stewart Copeland-of-metal Nicko McBrain’s gridlocked grooves and machine-gun fills, head-banging and singing along (even talking along to pre-recorded audio and video clips, like one from The Prisoner, before the band played “The Prisoner”). Though characteristically cathartic, you don’t typically think of metal shows as emotionally transcendent experiences. But for die-hard Music City Maiden fans, last night’s show clearly, clearly was.
Openers Megadeth, despite having exceptionally elaborate stage production and sound mix for a support act, were no match for Maiden. Nevertheless, their warm-up set was fucking good, especially if you like Megadeth and don’t mind the grating nature of Dave Mustaine’s singing, which sounds to The Spin like a cross between a cat squealing and a kindergartner throwing a temper tantrum. The third-place Titans of Thrash have no problem enticing the pretty-packed house to sing along to 'Deth staples like “Peace Sells,” “Symphony of Destruction” and “Holy Wars … the Punishment Due” — an epic trifecta of songs that closed out the band’s set. Somewhat disappointingly (we must admit), Mustaine made it through the show without making any dumbfounding political comments worthy of next-day Inforwars headlines. He did, however, share this sage pearl from the stage:
“We don’t wanna go to war in Syria, although some of those guys do need their asses kicked hard. War sucks. War’s good for the economy. War’s good for your pig elites. War’s not good for metal.”
Um, beg pardon? Sorry, Dave, but war is totally good for metal.
Without a doubt, this was the best major metal show to roll through town in recent memory, and might be for a long time — but hopefully not another 21 years.