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No Prayer for the Dying

Iron Maiden returns to Austin after 25 years
Raoul Hernandez, 12:47pm, Wed. Sep. 11, 2013
photo by Sandy Carson
Bruce Dickinson gets airborne early in Iron Maiden’s performance in Austin, Sept. 10

Cooling the concrete sprawl that is the Circuit of the Americas Amphitheater some 20 minutes southeast of Downtown, the rain that briefly threatened Iron Maiden’s first local show in a quarter-century mitigated temperatures nicely at the open-air venue. Gods smiled, in other words. Maiden, meanwhile, more than rose to the occasion.

With inclement weather briefly postponing both Jimmy Buffett and Dave Matthews at the venue back in May, and storms canceling Keith Urban there last month, the A360A has aptly demonstrated the central issue facing a stage and grounds with little to no cover for bands and fans. At 102 degrees and one sole water fountain, Mayhem Fest on August 2 might as well have been on Mars.

Tuesday night made up for – in part – lost venues (Selma’s late Verizon Wireless Amphitheater), opportunities (a similar shed here), and water from the heavens (concert completed, please continue).

“This place looks awfully new,” offered Maiden battle horn Bruce Dickinson, peering up into the stage’s lighting rigs and echoing an otherwise unintelligible Dave Mustaine (who announced he’s moving here: “still looking, still coming”), during Megadeth’s opening thrash splat. “Give it a new roof.”

Or a roof period. Then again, the cannonade of flames shooting into the air during “Phantom of the Opera,” after which came Dickinson’s appraisal, might have gone all Great White on any overhead thatching. Maiden, whose progressive histrionics – as in UK history – prompted its own genre via the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” matched the song’s suite-like steeplechase of Gothic riffs and aggro stomp. A defining air raid from the group’s eponymous 1980 debut, “Phantom” still unmasks a band/brand with tons of theatrical props yet no guises but its own.

Marching through the same songs as the sextet touched down in San Antonio last summer, Maiden’s 90-minute main set cruised at Boeing velocity and mass. Bandleader/bassist/central composer Steve Harris drew his clothesline rhythms taut and decapitating alongside drum behemoth Nicko McBrain early on “The Prisoner,” after the initial salvo of “Moonchild” and “Can I Play with Madness” set the show’s central conceit of reanimating the latter two tunes’ sponsoring album, 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. That tour, which last brought the band to Austin, came eight years into Maiden’s recorded history, and three decades on the band remains a mercenary lot, as sleek, sound, and storied as ye olde Rolling Stones themselves.

“2 Minutes to Midnight” struck with Dickinson in Mick Jagger mode, working the battleship-sized stage set-up like an athlete, sprinting and leaping from one end to the other without ever losing his breath or a lyric. Being something of a boyscout, 55, in a traditionally self-abusive genre hasn’t only preserved Dickinson’s voice, it’s kept Maiden vital minus the decade he was absent from the band.

When the frontman exited after 1990’s No Prayer for the Dying, also the debut of third guitarist Janick Gers, the group foundered in its sophomore decade, only to rise again as a three-ax monster for the singer’s return in 2000 for Brave New World. Since then, Iron Maiden has lived life after death as a band outside and above any Big Four designations. Metallica, Slayer, Testament and whoever else are sutured from the remains of Maiden.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been in Austin, Texas, if I can recall,” admitted Dickinson, a game and comedic entertainer changing costumes and hairstyles all evening, from his Dark Shadows widow’s peak for “Wasted Years” to his electric-socket Tim Burton splay on “The Clairvoyant.”

“The Trooper,” with its Mozart-on-meth riff figure, the elongated, metal opera atmospherics of “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” and the lacerating guitar choir of Janick Gers, Dave Murray, and Adrian Smith on “Fear of the Dark” all funneled into the set-closing ground zero of punk-metal incubus/succubus “Iron Maiden.” Enormous, animatronic props, eye-popping skeletal “Eddie” backdrops, and notes held long and loud heralded a spectacle like no other in rock.

As a sub-genre of rock & roll, metal is a classic sound, and none breathe life and death into it like Iron Maiden.

Set List, Austin 360 Amphitheater, 9.10.13 [See photo gallery as well.]

“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”

Encore:

“Aces High”

“The Evil That Men Do”

“Running Free”

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