Iron Maiden Live In Chicago
Concert Review: Chicago, IL- United Center - April 6th, 2016
It's easy to fall back on what is familiar. Routines become religion and fore we know it, life is a series of non-events where we never leave home without our safety blankets. We stay in thankless jobs because it's easier than trekking into the unknown. We eat at the same restaurants, eating familiar cuisines because we are afraid of unacquainted food. We listen to the same music from our teen years, because we can't be bothered with music that may take time to grasp, understand and ultimately love. It's a wonder any music artist continues to create, let alone stun their fans with a tour in support of the album that doesn't contain ninety-percent classic material. Then again, Iron Maiden isn't your average run-of-the-mill band. While most of their peers are aging ungracefully into retirement, Maiden are challenging their audience. Hell, they're pushing them to the brink with their sixteen studio album, The Book of Souls. Forty years after forming in East London, the six-piece metal band delivered their longest album to date, clocking in at ninety-two minutes that requires a engaged ear and a open heart.
At their recent tour stop in Chicago at the United Center, lead singer Bruce Dickinson opened the show perched above the stage with images of a Mayan ruin on the screen behind him as he adroitly conjures a cautionary tale of civilization, "If Eternity Should Fail". When the other five members of Maiden hit the stage it was with a boundless determination they kept for the entirety of their 110-minute performance. The band has always had a very firm view on the future with robust new material they aren't afraid to play. On the evening's second song, "Speed of Light" Dickinson leaped to the front of the stage. Dressed in brown khakis and a black hoodie he looks more like an rugged explorer than a rock star, but those who dismiss it are missing the point. The band, and their legendary and infamous mascot Eddie, are all about exploration.
The album and tour follow a loose narrative which the band captured onstage with the same essence of their early career. It would be easier for the band to launch nostalgia tours year-after-year, but this has never been how Iron Maiden ticks. The nearly two-hour set on the The Book of Souls tour confounds many, but is a breath of fresh air for others. Onstage, these songs unfold taking us places we couldn't have foreseen and made us ponder the what has come before, what challenges exist in front of us now and what nightmares will never be annihilated?
Despite a set heavy on material from The Book of Souls the band delivered faithful renditions of several classics. On "Children of the Damned" bassist Steve Harris roamed the stage like a man on a mission. Guitarist Adrian Smith's guitar brims like a volcano ready to erupt on a stage where sound barrier speeds are demolished. "The Trooper" showcased Smith along with Dave Murray whose six-string fret work echoes a studied and elder martial arts master who is only flashy when needed. Dickinson disappeared behind a mask for "Powerslave" while Janick Gers surpasses any and all expectations with fiery flares of guitar work. Gers is like a unassuming shortstop who never makes the all-star game and yet bats around .300 every season. He never disappoints even when he's in the background allowing his other band mates take the spotlight. Harris prowls the stage like a marksman with his bass pounding the pavement on siren wail of "Hallowed Be Thy Name" while "Fear of the Dark" (a constant in their sets ever since 1992) had the crowd shaking the foundation of the Madhouse on Madison with their rapturous call and response vocals. Eddie made an appearance as Dickinson roamed the stage like a man possessed who extended his intense focus to "The Number of the Beast" where the stage was Dickinson's playground. Despite having their first decade define their career, it isn't what their legacy is based upon. They didn't perform "Killers", "Run To The Hills", "Aces High" or "Running Free", but amazingly, I didn't yearn for them. The material from The Book of Souls was an invigorating sight to see as I watched Maiden defy expectations as they trekked in territory that isn't often traveled.
The album's title track found Gers and Harris open the song with a grim look of gore and glory while Dickinson proved to the 14,000 in attendance that he's more than a mere preacher singing from on high on Sunday morning, he's a healer whose power extends beyond the spiritual realm and is only accentuated by his muscular bravado vocals. "Tears of a Clown" was explicitly distressing as it was written in the wake of the death of Robin Williams. The world has a strange yearning process for celebrities because we establish a sense of fluency with their art. It may be imprudent however, it doesn't make their absence any less traumatic. Harris' lyrics paint a portrait of a man who was smiles on the outside but conflicted within. It doesn't have to apply to the man who populated our laughter for more than a generation, but it provides a comfort that is unforeseen but pertinent.
The evening's tour de force moment came from a new cut that lasted fourteen minutes; "The Red and the Black". The dichotomy of right and wrong are blurred in Harris' lyrics but it was the performance that left an ineradicable impression on me. Drummer Nicko McBrain rumbles in union with Harris as their combative rhythm opens paths for the triple guitar attack to flourish. Whatever issues one may have with new material, they can't deny the fervor with which its conveyed. The resolute concentration in Dickinson's eyes penetrated the audience in a swaying way to make you believe and be swept up in the magic of it all. "The Red and the Black" is a maze of a song as it leads the audience down dissimilar tunnels and surreptitious passages amidst fluctuating tempos and lightning bolt guitar work, most notably Dave Murray and Adrian Smith whose guitars battled and accentuated the mêlée within the song. It's a gritty noir film that continually surprises you and pulls you in directions you never knew you wanted to go. Even when Dickinson is silent, Maiden excels with the musical craftiness of the five core musicians. There are stories being told in the tuneful shifts of melody that frighten you and ultimately guide you towards the light. This is more than mere jamming but a mouth gaping tour de force six string symphony created to awe and inspire. "The Red and the Black" deserves to be performed on every tour going forward.
As the evening drew to a close, the space traveler laser chords highlighting "Wasted Years" spiraling from Adrian Smith's guitar brought the evening to a close with a tale of the here and now which was discretely chosen as the show's final song urging their audience to explore. Iron Maiden is a band devoted to their fans while providing equal perseverance to their craft. They could take a more lucrative path, a high profile road churning out mediocre records with tours built upon the past, but instead Maiden are metal minded explorers. When they're not inspiring themselves and pushing the artistic envelope, they're stimulating their audience, pushing them into prickly areas not wholly familiar and yet, we're better for it. We're re-engaged every few years finding new musical treasures to accompany us on our journey. Standing next to "Wasted Years" will be ""The Red and the Black". The greatest rewards uncoil when we least expect them. The Book of Souls isn't an easy record to love, but after witnessing the orchestrated live performance, you appreciate it on a deeper and much more profound level than you ever could have imagined.
See the upcoming dates for The Book Of Souls World Tour here.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Iron Maiden Live In Chicago
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