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Monday, June 21, 2010

Last Night: Iron Maiden's Metal Juggernaut Gets Father's Day Crowd Headbanging

Posted By on Mon, Jun 21, 2010 at 9:28 AM

Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci
  • Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci

Iron Maiden
Dream Theater

@Sleep Train Pavilion
Sunday, June 20, 2010

Better than: Any other metal band with 35+ years under its belt. 

Iron Maiden has always fallen into that category of venerable metal or hard-rock outfit that you simply do not miss when they come to town. You don't miss Slayer, you don't miss Rush, and -- if you can convince your family that letting you see them with 12,000 fellow heshers in Concord would be a pretty awesome Father's Day gift - you don't miss Maiden. Neither the Hallmark holiday nor advance word of a set list focusing on the group's more prog-tinged efforts from the last decade could discourage the faithful from packing Sleep Train Pavilion. Having done retrospective shows that leaned heavily on earlier eras the last couple of times around, maybe Maiden had earned a chance to celebrate its material of more recent vintage.

My heavy metal lawyer and I weren't totally sold on openers Dream Theater. Playing a noodling amalgam of progressive rock and metal that frequently highlights the shortcomings of both genres, the Long Island-based band has a tendency to cram way too many notes into often unmemorable tunes. But what do you expect from a group formed by jazz-damaged Berklee School of Music nerds? 

Dream Theater wisely stuck to more aggressive material like "As I Am" and its lone MTV hit "Pull Me Under" to appeal to the Maiden loyalists. Guitarist John Petrucci's flood of bumblebee-on-meth licks inspired much fist-banging worship from the surprisingly sizable throng of rabid Dream Theater fans that made it into the venue for the band's early start. Drummer Michael Portnoy provided a propulsive fusillade of busy fills that would have made Neil Pert blush. Still, for the unconverted, a little Dream Theater went a long way. And - ironic or not - it was tough to overlook the egregious employment of the dreaded keytar at a metal gig.

Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci
  • Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci

By the time the headliner took the stage, just before 9 p.m., the crowd was frothing in anticipation. Sporting a new set that borrowed heavily from NASA imagery to go with undead-band-mascot Eddie's new Alien vs. Predator-style look, Maiden flew out of the gates at a full gallop with a punishing version of "The Wicker Man" from 2000's Brave New World. Singer Bruce Dickinson was his usual swashbuckling bundle of energy, somehow nailing his operatic vocals while racing and leaping about in a blur of constant motion. Guitarists Adrian Smith and Dave Murray may be a touch slower of step onstage these days, but Dickinson, seemingly ageless founding bassist Steve Harris, and third guitar player Janick Gers more than made up for it.

Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci
  • Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci

Outside of playing Killers-era gem "Wrathchild" early on, Maiden stuck exclusively to songs from the past decade for a majority of the show. While such a move would be disastrous for most bands with a history stretching back to the '70s, the group's passionate delivery and widescreen presentation made a strong case for epic newer tracks like "Dance of Death" and "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg." The lone new track unveiled from Maiden's forthcoming album The Final Frontier, "El Dorado," rocked with a muscular riff and hooky chorus that bodes well for the effort. One could gripe about the inclusion of "Blood Brothers" (Dickinson's heartfelt tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio got a bigger response than the tune itself) or minor '90s hit "Fear of the Dark" over any tracks from Piece of Mind or Powerslave, but there was no denying the mighty juggernaut that is Maiden when they unleashed a show-closing salvo that included "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and "Running Free." 

Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci
  • Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias: My rolled-up Number of the Beast poster is probably still collecting dust at my parents' house.
Random Detail: The one guy in the full Mohawk spotted rocking out fiercely to Dream Theater was either seriously confused or possibly the most punk dude ever.
By the way: You can download "El Dorado" on Maiden's website for free.

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Dave Pehling


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