Iron Maiden, Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion, 8/6/12

Iron Maiden Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion Monday, August 6

See the full Iron Maiden @ AFHSP slideshow. See also: Deep Purple Tribute: Iron Maiden, Metallica, More Salute Keyboardist Jon Lord See also: Six Desert Metal Bands You Need to Hear See also: Iron Maiden Put on Awesome Show for the Kids at Cricket Wireless Pavilion (2010)

Iron Maiden makes pretty music.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to suggest that the band's sweltering performance last night wasn't all the things their New Wave of British Heavy Metal credentials would imply: brutal, technically dazzling, explosive, heavy.

But as heavy as things got -- and they got plenty heavy -- I was struck even more by the finesse of the band.

The band has it: Vocalist Bruce Dickinson raced around the stage and sounded impossibly good for a 54-year-old; the trio of guitarists -- Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers -- pulled off spinning displays of prog- and classical-level harmonized lead work; drummer Nicko McBrain navigated the band through the knotty time signatures and pummeling punk speed of the early material; and bassist and primary songwriter Steve Harris, clearly the heart and soul of the band, led the instrumental charge, his bass emblazoned with a West Ham United football club sticker.

Following an opening set by Coheed and Cambria (a sort of curious choice, except when the band's punk rock roots -- something shared with Maiden -- are taken into account), Maiden stormed the stage. Images of glaciers collapsing flashed on the screen (Dickinson would later joke this was to help keep the black-shirted fans cool, but guess what -- it didn't), and the band tore into "Moonchild," from its 1988 concept record, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

Wearing a long coat (quickly shed), jeans, and athletic sneakers, Dickinson strutted, sprinted, and jumped around the stage. The guy isn't your typical frontman -- can you think of any other lead singers who fly the band's airplane? He wouldn't stop darting for the rest of the show, and the band did their best to match his verve and gusto. Gers got close, often playing guitar over the neck or summoning some sort of distorted ghosts from it with spirit fingers and a maniacal grin.

But there's a kind of soulfulness and melodic power -- dare I say pleasantness -- to what Maiden does. The band's battering-ram power assures that they'll never be mistaken for arena-metal cheese, but songs like "Can I Play With Madness" and "2 Minutes to Midnight" are full of hooks and pop appeal, the sort powerful melodies that Def Leppard, another of the NWOBHM cast that eventually rode melodic sounds to the top of the charts. (Maiden, meanwhile, never got much radio play.) The vocal mix started off a bit muddy but cleared up nicely only a few songs in. The adjustments were greatly appreciated: You don't really get a sense of what a top-notch vocal group Maiden is until hearing the intricate harmonies of "Wasted Years."

Dickinson's banter ("Scream for me, Phoenix!") got repetitive, but who was there to hear Dickinson rap? Fans were there for a greatest hits set (delivered), and a couple of Eddie sightings. The band's longtime mascot appeared on the stage art, which changed and morphed beautifully as the set went on, reveling in the band's comic book and sci-fi-inspired portfolio, and onstage a couple times, in the form of a lumbering, sword-wielding giant and a massive, eyes ablaze idol.

They were production gestures to the fans, and the audience cheered and roared during the entire 90-minute set. Weed smoke wafted through the arena, and its evidence was notable when the folks near me tried (unsuccessfully) to clap along to the space rock excursion of "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son."

No matter. Iron Maiden was on point enough for everyone, offering up their string of original, powerful odes to individualism, nonjudgmental protest rock, and spinning progressive suites. There's a reason Iron Maiden is beloved. To paraphrase a Wolverine quote: Its members are the best they are at what they do. And what they do is, occasionally, very pretty.

Critic's Notebook:

Last night: Iron Maiden and Coheed and Cambria @ Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion The crowd: Vintage metalheads, their kids (with noise-dampening headphones slapped on), tattooed rockers, lots of Iron Maiden shirts (because that rule about not going to a band's show in said band's shirt is not a rule that heshers abide by). Overheard: "I can't beeeeeeeeelllllieeeeeve this is happening!" Pre-gig music:Some Def Leppard. Not a bad choice. Un-ironic facial hair styling: Mustache. Hey, here's a thing: I first heard Coheed and Cambria on an Equal Vision comp. I'm pretty sure it came free with an issue of Alternative Press and I'm positive Rocking Horse Winner was featured on it, too.


"Moonchild" "Can I Play With Madness" "The Prisoner" "2 Minutes to Midnight" "Afraid to Shoot Strangers" "The Trooper" "The Number of the Beast" "Phantom of the Opera" "Run to the Hills" "Wasted Years" "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" "The Clairvoyant" "Fear of the Dark" "Iron Maiden"


"Aces High" "The Evil That Men Do" "Running Free"

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.