Shortly before 9 p.m., a pair of henchmen flanked the stage to unveil a moss-covered set.
A few minutes later, that set was blanketed in dry ice, while a bobbing military plane hung precariously close to the head of drummer Nicko McBrain, who was sunk in an enclosed nest.
But this is Iron Maiden, so there is no fear.
As McBrain thundered the intro to “Aces High,” singer Bruce Dickinson, aviator hat strapped on, shrieked like a man half of his soon-to-be-61 years as lights swarmed and probed.
Welcome, Maidenheads, to the “Legacy of the Beast” tour, which ran through Europe last summer and kicked off the North American leg Thursday night in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It will round the country through September before heading to South America for a handful of shows.
At Saturday’s packed concert at Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood, where the band last performed in 2012, Iron Maiden romped through a 16-song setlist packed with, as Dickinson said with a grin to the crowd, “no new songs!”
Indeed, “Where Eagles Dare” (1983) was followed by “2 Minutes to Midnight” (1984) and “The Clansman” (a relative newbie from 1998). The fans - an endearing mixture of graying metalheads donning their finest concert T-shirts (Metallica, Dream Theater, AC/DC) and youngsters wise to the ways of the veteran metal gods - threw devil horns in the air and screamed along with every Dickinson roar.
Iron Maiden has never been about easily digested, four-minute rock songs with glossy choruses. Their material is a mass of opuses that requires impeccable timing, atmospheric bellowing and finger-blistering guitar wizardry.
During “Where Eagles Dare,” guitarist Dave Murray wrung notes from his instrument, its neck pointed skyward, while “2 Minutes to Midnight” saw guitarist Janick Gers soloing with his guitar held overheard, centimeters from his mound of blonde hair. Adrian Smith, meanwhile, added another layer of guitar texture to every song, while bassist/founder Steve Harris strutted the stage, smiling at fans in his black shorts and tank top, as he anchored the songs with McBrain.
While Dickinson ditched his headgear a couple of songs into the two-hour concert, he didn’t abandon his pitch-perfect rocker posturing – crouching, fist-thrusting toward the crowd and balancing on monitors.
He brandished a sword during the dramatic telling of “The Clansman” (“Make sure you spell this one right,” he said before the song started), as a mural of perennial mascot, Eddie, sneered over the proceedings.
The hyped, sweaty gathering of fans burst into a next-level frenzy at the opening attack of “The Trooper,” which included a live appearance from a towering Eddie, who engaged in swordplay with Iron Maiden’s game frontman.
For a large segment of the concert, the band allowed entry into their Cathedral of Rawk, a backdrop of stained-glass windows – designed Maiden-style – and flickering chandeliers. It also marked the full visibility of McBrain, who brought his blitzkrieg of snare drum and cymbals to “Revelations,” “For the Greater Good of God” (a little bit of untamed shriek-iness from Dickinson on that one), “The Wicker Man” and “Sign of the Cross,” which included pops of pyro with its whizzing guitar solos.
Though Iron Maiden was never a chart force in the U.S. compared to its worldwide success, they did achieve Top 10 rock radio status in 1983 with “Flight of Icarus.” The locomotive riffs of the song blasted through the amphitheater 10 songs into the set, complete with a representation of the winged fellow from Greek mythology suspended above the stage. As the song rumbled to a close, Dickinson spat flames from his hand-controlled pyro backpack like Spider-Man – if Spider-Man were a British heavy metal legend.
During the ‘80s, Iron Maiden scored a strong of platinum records, and the devotion to songs such as “The Number of the Beast” and show-closer “Run to the Hills” are testament to their enduring popularity, even as American record sales have waned (by contrast, their last album, 2015’s “The Book of Souls,” went gold in countries ranging from Italy to Canada).
It’s unmistakable that this “Legacy of the Beast” tour – a carnival of visuals and meaty music - is a loving gesture to those who have followed them for decades, as well as an introduction for younger fans who now realize how high the bar is set.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.