You have to be pretty confident in the depth of your props cupboard to start your show with a warplane threatening to crash into the stage. If any band has enough decomposing ghouls in its closet to back up that confidence, Iron Maiden does.
Never a band to shy away from lunatic showmanship, Maiden has outdone itself on the Legacy of the Beast tour — a deep dive into four decades of macabre, genre-defining iconography that brought the metal warriors back to the Bell Centre on Monday. Still, all the swordplay and inflatable hellbeasts would have amounted to an empty (albeit entertaining) spectacle if it weren’t for the enduring power of Maiden’s leather-and-denim dramas. While the fashion parade in the arena’s corridors suggested the band could stay afloat purely on its T-shirt sales, it wasn’t iconic graphic design alone that sold out the venue.
“Ce soir, nous n’avons pas des chansons nouvelles,” Bruce Dickinson said in a jovial all-French intro. Unlike other bands of a certain vintage, that’s not a given with Maiden, who have taken to alternating tours proudly showcasing new material with tours focused on their remarkable ’80s run. It speaks well of the group’s continued relevance that the frontman’s announcement didn’t lead to a wild ovation, but few of the 16,100-plus in attendance were likely to complain about a high-octane set list that kicked off with Aces High (Dickinson in fighter-pilot gear) and ended with Run to the Hills (Dickinson cackling as he set off a blast of pyro with a Wile E. Coyote TNT canister).
With the singer two days away from turning 61, his window-shattering wail remained astonishing. After shaking off some rust in the opener, he was a supernatural force for two hours, piercing the three-guitar lineup’s well-choreographed overload and rising above a typically thunderous mix favouring bassist Steve Harris. It took just two songs before Dickinson unleashed his trademark “Scrrrrream for me, Montréal!” command, but unlike some contemporaries, he didn’t let himself coast on the shout-alongs that roared back at him.
Almost every song was given its own visual backdrop (fittingly for a tour tied in with a mobile game of the same title), and was treated as its own miniature metal opera. An especially potent 2 Minutes to Midnight found Dickinson in a camo vest, raising his time-warping vibrato as he straddled monitors. Soon after, he was scampering across the multi-level set in The Trooper, taunting a 10-foot redcoat version of undead mascot Eddie. For most bands, the duel would have been a distraction; for Maiden, grim humour and fist-pumping are forever intertwined.
In a set dominated by the ’82-’84 trio of The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind and Powerslave, there was room to acknowledge and redeem the maligned Blaze Bayley era. The Clansman (“pour les Américains, c’est avec un C”) was an early highlight — perhaps the most textured number of the night, with an effectively brooding intro and guitarists Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers engaging in some delirious tag-teaming. An epic Sign of the Cross was impressively sinister, aside from the very literal light-up prop carried around by Dickinson.
There was also room to acknowledge the strength of the latter-day albums. For the Greater Good of God was as widescreen as anything in the show, unfolding amid churchly set design (transformed from the wartime numbers’ vine-covered scenery) and with streamlined pummelling from the guitarists. It was followed by a punchy and powerful tear through The Wicker Man, which intensified the sporadic chaos breaking out on the GA floor.
There was some unintentional comedy as Dickinson seemed to struggle with double flamethrowers in Flight of Icarus, and intentional black comedy when he emerged in a phantom-of-the-opera getup for Fear of the Dark, swinging a green lantern. By the time he ended the number as a dandy undertaker, Dickinson had changed outfits more times than Beyoncé. Still, his wardrobe took a back seat to the extraordinary choir of thousands, and his own larynx-busting chorus.
A pulse-quickening The Number of the Beast featured flames, gargoyles, smoke, hellish lights, and the band going for broke. The home-stretch energy spike carried through Iron Maiden’s self-titled thrasher, with Harris’s rubber solo summoning the rise of the devil-as-Eddie, towering above the stage and looking primed to bust through the arena walls.
It was thrill after thrill — expertly executed fan service from a band that doesn’t believe in half measures. One of the thrills: Dickinson’s promise of new material in the future. Maiden seems sure to continue adding to its legacy as long as Eddie hasn’t shed the last of his internal organs.