Saturday Night: Iron Maiden at The Woodlands

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Iron Maiden, Coheed and Cambria Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion August 18, 2012

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With 15 studio albums and at least as many world tours now under its belt, Iron Maiden is not a band from which fans are seeking innovative new sounds. More than 30 years after they shoved heavy metal in an electrifying new direction with their self-titled debut and sophomore classic, Killers, the British rock stalwarts' show is mostly a celebration of reliability: Reliable riffs, reliable props and reliable precision.

Saturday night at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Iron Maiden reliably delivered. Better than many of their peers on the heavy-metal nostalgia circuit, Maiden is adept at infusing nostalgia with novelty. This summer's Maiden England World Tour harkens back to the band's 1989 live VHS of the same name, which captured the band's '88 tour in support of the album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. That trek's 24-year-old set list and stage dressings were dusted off for the occasion.

Rehashed as it was, the show was still spectacular. Not just spectacular for some old dudes with pointy guitars, either -- just plain spectacular, period. A lot of the credit has to go to the crowd. A fist-pumping sea of black Iron Maiden shirts, they joyously hung on every note.

After a modestly received set by emo progsters Coheed and Cambria, Maiden appeared to orgiastic approval for a pair of tunes from Seventh Son, "Moonchild" and "Can I Play With Madness." On a stage set to resemble the frozen hell depicted on that record's cover, the band would go on to play more than half of the album's songs, several of which have become live rarities in the ensuing decades.

During the doomsday revel "2 Minutes to Midnight," Maiden comfortingly (and convincingly) proved that they can still match their fans' energy. Steve Harris fired off machine-gun licks on his bass as singer Bruce Dickinson nimbly leapt off of monitors, just as they always have. Drummer Nicko McBrain was completely obscured by his kit in the middle of the group's multi-tiered set, but when the cameras caught his face, he looked once again to be having more fun than anyone else in the amphitheater.

The ecstatic crowd was more than happy to play its role in the show, too. They banged their heads, clapped their hands and held up hundreds of posters, banners and flags as electricity crackled through the venue. Though many in attendance looked old enough to be reliving long-gone high-school salad days, a large contingent of teens in the crowd were clearly having their minds blown for the very first time.

"Scream for me, Houston!" Dickinson demanded, and the audience repeatedly obliged.

A quadruple helping of Maiden warhorses in the middle of the set, including "The Trooper," "Number of the Beast," "Phantom of the Opera" and "Run to the Hills," threatened to bring the house down prematurely. The ageless Dickinson hit every high note as the band's grotesque, 10-foot-tall mascot Eddie prowled the stage dressed as Gen. George S. Custer, swinging his saber and generally causing audience members to piss themselves with excitement.

The ferocious pyrotechnics employed by Slayer at last month's Mayhem Festival were mighty impressive, but Iron Maiden easily topped them, sending four 20-foot columns of flame from the stage floor to the lighting rig high above. The heat was intense even 25 rows back.

During "Number of the Beast," an animatronic demon gazed out on to the hill with glowing red eyes from its perch on the stage set's second tier. Stunning as the special effects were, they were more than equaled by the well-scripted guitar fireworks dispatched by Iron Maiden's triple-guitar assault deployed by Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers.

The band didn't need the explosive trappings to keep the night's energy at fever pitch. For 1986's "Wasted Years," a few spotlights and a massive singalong were all that was required. The crowd participation continued with "Fear of the Dark," and by the time an enormous animatronic recreation of Eddie from the Seventh Son album cover rose from beneath the stage to tower over the band during "Iron Maiden," fans were screaming themselves horse.

Then, Eddie's brain exploded in flames, and all I could do was shake my head and grin. "Over the top" is simply where Iron Maiden begins. They didn't play a song less than 20 years old all night, but their eye-popping stage show and impeccable playing appear primed to keep packing in the crowds well into the band's fourth decade.

Saturday night was Maiden's final night of a 36-date North American tour, but they looked as if they could easily handle another 36. It's hard to imagine them not returning again soon.

Much like Eddie, I'll be back.

Personal Bias: The other reporter next to me didn't seem all that impressed with my singing during "Aces High." Back to the shower, I guess.

The Crowd: The guy behind me was over 60. The kid in front of me was under 16. Both wore identical Maiden t-shirts. The beer guy told me he'd served fans from Germany, Spain, Mexico and Brazil Saturday night.

Overheard In the Crowd: Just roaring, basically. It was one of the loudest, most pumped-up crowds I can remember at the Pavilion.

Random Notebook Dump: After countless long, hard tours, Iron Maiden remains in amazingly good shape. Maybe my D.A.R.E. officer was right.


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


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