Iron Maiden formed in 1975, meaning that last year the band turned forty. So how is it, pray tell, that guitarist Janick Gers is still stretching his leg up to the top of his amp stack with alarming regularity? How is it that they all still appear to be in shape, they all still move around more than most metal bands a fraction of their age, and the only real sign of time passing is the graying of singer Bruce Dickinson's hair?
Maybe the new album, The Book of Souls, holds the answers. Dealing with the subject of the Mayan civilization and, in particular, the belief that souls live on after death. Ahhh, perhaps the Maiden boys have pulled an Indiana Jones and unlocked these ancient secrets, keeping their bodies ticking along. Or maybe they made a deal with the devil back in the Number of the Beast days. Or Horus during the Powerslave period. Maybe they turned cyborg while recording Somewhere in Time. In any case, time appears to be passing backwards for the Irons.
On that note, there are few bands of Maiden's vintage who are still putting out albums as relevant, exciting and downright invigorating as The Book of Souls. Dickinson has said more than once that he doesn't want the band to become a nostalgia thing, regardless of how beloved the old songs are. So whenever they tour a new album, you can be damned sure that the set will feature a lot of new songs. Because the difference between Iron Maiden and a band like, say, AC/DC is that Maiden fans genuinely do give a shit about the new material — because it's generally great.
On Wednesday night, the new songs were well-received by a terrifically enthusiastic crowd, a crowd which has aged with the band but, in fairness, doesn't look quite as timeless. The title track of the new album sounded epic, all typically big riffs and verses that build dramatically to the climax of a chorus. By contrast, "Tears of a Clown" (about Robin Williams) was touchingly poignant.
Continuing the Mayan theme, the stage setup featured faux ancient ruins with flaming torches and a large fiery cauldron at the top of a pyramid, and Dickinson played the role of some sort of mystic or priest, casting spells over his willing and eager congregation. When walking mascot Eddie appeared midway through, he was also playing a role: Mayan Eddie. Eddie left the stage when Dickinson literally pulled out his glowing heart.
Of course, Maiden doesn't leave its fans wanting when it comes to the crowd favorites, and the set list featured sing-alongs in the form of classic metal anthems "Children of the Damned," "The Trooper," "Hallowed Be Thy Name," "Iron Maiden," "Wasted Years," and, of course, "The Number of the Beast" (complete with giant Satan, arms folded, watching over us all).
A surprise "Blood Brothers" from 2000's Brave New World (the album that saw Dickinson return to the band after a five-year split) increased the already vibrant feeling of kinship in the Pepsi Center. The room can feel cavernous on occasion, but Maiden almost succeeded in making it feel like a family gathering. Because while there are still enough Maiden fans to fill a room like this, most of them know, and relish the fact, that there's nothing "cool" about Iron Maiden today. The crowd isn't made up of the guys who made out with the cheerleaders in high school or scored a game-winning touchdown. The thing is that most of them have matured and don't give a fuck anymore.
Weirdly, there is an appealing retro quality to Maiden in 2016, and there were a fair number of young people in attendance. Whether they get the hard time that fans got in '89 — we doubt it. Now we have fathers and mothers taking their sons and daughters to a Maiden show. This is progress.
Two songs were ringing in our ears during the drive home: the wonderfully anthemic and comically sinister "Fear of the Dark," and the frankly hair-raising "Powerslave." But the lasting memories will be of a mass of Colorado misfits brought together over generations by six old English geezers, and of Dickinson pleading with us time and time again to "Scream for me, Denver!"
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We were happy to do it.