Iron Maiden Continue the Legacy of the Beast at United Center 10/5/2022 (Live Review + Photos)
On October 4th, I was granted approval to photograph Iron Maiden in Chicago and, without hesitation, made my way to one of the jobs of my dreams. I was a "Stranger in a Strange Land": I'd never been to Chicago, never been to the United Center Arena, and never before photographed one of the founding bands of heavy metal: Iron Maiden. The arena was packed to the brim with fans of all ages from around the world to experience the wonder of these UK born musical giants making history on their Legacy of the Beast World Tour 2022: a heightened 2 hour long fusion of theatrics and music performance spanning their entire 4 decade career thus far, supported by the Dutch symphonic metal band Within Temptation. Here is my account of being up close and personal with one of my musical heroes, and in general, experiencing one of the most epic nights of my life thus far.
To open the night, vocalist Sharon den Adel walked onto the stage adorning a black halo while the rest of Within Temptation got into their positions. I was in the pit to photograph the tracks “The Reckoning”, “Paradise (What About Us?)", and “In the Middle of the Night”. Drenched in phases of red and white light, Sharon’s beautiful soprano vibrato weaved its way through the ears and hearts of the audience with each passing minute. Partway through their set, she interrupted the fragile, wondrous still of “Entertain You” with a return to reality, dedicating their next track “Supernova” to her father who passed a few years prior. This song, she announced to the crowd in a heartfelt tone, was also dedicated to those who had also lost loved ones and were waiting for a sign from them from the other side. For the track “Raise Your Banner,” Sharon brought out the Ukrainian flag, twirling it as she sought the crowd's support. They concluded their set with “Mother Earth,” beautifully reconnecting the audience to our core sense of home, the only home we all are equally unified under by birth.
While the stage was being set for Iron Maiden, my heart pounded as myself and a group of other photographers waited to enter the photo pit. I knew I had ten minutes within arms' reach of my heroes to do the best I could. Upon entering the pit and joining the audience in eager darkness, an ethereal growl filled the air. First on the stage, drummer Nicko McBrain took his spot and pounded the drums ceremoniously as the rest of the band made their way onto the stage. With each strike the lights flashed brightly, making photographing him a challenge. The setting of the first portion of the show was built around the Japanese theme of their most recent album Senjutsu, complete with a traditionally designed architectural backdrop. They opened with the self-titled track “Senjutsu,” and I was left in awe at the energy of every member as they immediately put their entirety into the performance and continued to do so for the rest of the night, especially that of Bruce Dickinson. Surrounded by beams of blue, orange, and purple light, I was able to capture Bruce in colorful still life as he belted out every lyric with his globally-recognizable and extremely rare 4 octave vocal range. At 64 years young, he has managed to overcome so many obstacles across his lifetime, most recently beating tongue cancer and retaining a voice as clear and powerful as ever to my ears. In duality with his athletic vigor, I found myself more profoundly awed by him as a singer and a person than ever before.
This vibrancy can also be seen in Janick Gers, where the guitar becomes a performance tool on top of being his musical weapon. Fellow guitarist Adrian Smith worked in polyphony with their third guitarist Dave Murray and bassist Steve Harris. Nicko powerfully delivered every blow to the wall-sized drum kit before him decorated with various renditions of their mascot Eddie from over the years. Iron Maiden’s members prove to be a unified team of hard working musicians who earned their place in history as one of the world’s founding heavy metal groups. Within moments of the first song ending, the band transitioned into “Stratego,” the second song on Senjutsu. The Japanese warrior version of Eddie that joined them on stage was shockingly larger than life, even having seen videos, however his presence equally matched the overwhelming power of his creators onstage. Senjutsu Eddie raised his sword to battle Janick, but the guitar is mightier than the sword. In defeat, Senjutsu exited the stage as the band concluded the epic number.
Switching perspective as a fan in the audience upon exiting the pit, I observed as Bruce introduced the single from Senjutsu, “Writing on the Wall,” my favorite track from the album, as the video played on the screens and the painted backdrop behind the set changed to reveal a cloaked figure on a motorcycle. With a bang, the band returned their energy full force upon the crowd. As the only song on the album I had memorized by heart, it was a welcome pleasure to sing along.
The backdrop changed to a colorful cathedral-like set of stained glass images depicting Trooper Eddie, Seventh Son Eddie, Number of the Beast Eddie, and Powerslave Eddie. From here the band introduced the track “Revelations” from the album Piece of Mind. Looking back, this was the first Iron Maiden album I had listened to around the age of 13, more or less the time that metal music became something I actively wanted to expose myself more to and sparked a deep interest. In transition, they presented “Blood Brothers” from the album Brave New World, Bruce twirling the microphone stand while singing, and Janick showing off his windmill guitar playing position.
I found more familiarity with this album and their entire discography around my collegiate years, most fondly with the album “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.” I particularly enjoyed the message of “The Evil that Men Do,” as I renewed and dug deep into my music interests with the newfound, overwhelming freedom. I explored videos of their live performances along with many other artists, but I had never seen them perform live in person before, so I hold this performance dear to me.
The set shifted from the rose-stained glass backdrop to something I had never seen before: a skeletal Eddie in flames holding a cross pendant surrounded by people burning on stakes and a burning church: a symbol of rebellion against the tyranny of organized religion, especially how it was in old England. Under a veil of deep red light and surrounded by stage smoke, a black-cloaked Bruce returned to the stage holding a wooden cross to present the song “Sign of the Cross”. Towards its conclusion, the cross he held lit up with lights, presenting it to the crowd amid the first display of fire rising from the stage.
Simply put, the set pieces for each and every song are jaw-dropping. In an even more dramatic transition to the second half of their performance, the backdrop turned to a cloudy sky and empty window shapes with a giant winged humanoid sculpture hanging in the background. Here, Bruce showed off his famous dual flamethrower skills as they performed “Flight of Icarus”. I'd seen videos before, buthe real life experience of seeing any musician bravely handling fire while performing is a sight to behold. The stage transitions to blue and green and the crowd shouts the introductory notes back as Bruce enters wearing a historic black trenchcoat and hat, plus a silver venetian mask with a long nose. Holding a glowing green lantern, he launched into “Fear of the Dark” from the album of the same name. Still under a blue glow, the following track “Hallowed be Thy Name” had a noose drop from the ceiling above, to which Bruce is seen holding onto. During a solo where Janick, Dave, and Adrian line up front stage, Bruce was stuck behind an illusion of being behind bars whilst continuing to sing.
With another backdrop change to a mouth of giant fangs and a sea of fire, I heard a distinct, bellowing voiceover: the intro to the legendary “The Number of the Beast”, one of their most well known songs in their entire career. Beautiful plumes of fire rose from the stage in between the lines of the leading chorus.The artwork transitioned to a volcanic pool as Bruce riled the crowd to sing along for “Iron Maiden,'' the defining track of their self titled album that jump started their career. Even at over an hour into the performance, the heightened energy of each member never faltered. Janick twirled his guitar in every direction like a batton, all whilst continuing to play. As flames and giant torches emerged nearing the conclusion of the track, we reached the most impressive aspect of their performance, for anyone who has never seen videos from this tour: the gargantuan and highly realistic horned beast sculpture with glowing eyes and fangs agape that rose from behind the stage. Its head and eyes followed the crowd as Bruce urged them to join in the chorus. At the finale guitar solo between Dave and Adrian, Janick threw his guitar into the air and twirled it in a circular motion while Bruce gave shoutouts to everyone in the crowd.
Now in high anticipation, the crowd cheered as the art transitioned to the well known image of Trooper Eddie. Bruce reappeared dressed in similar uniform while waving a sword and a British flag from the upper level of the stage. After dueling a giant Trooper Eddie, Bruce then returned to the upper level with an American flag which doubled as a false historic rifle. In a crack of gunsmoke, Bruce returned to waving the British flag before exiting the stage and the song came to a close. Eddie, now seen in blue warpaint, is represented on the backdrop for “The Clansman,” sung by Bruce with a sword still in hand and with gusto. For the final portion of the performance, an image of trooper Eddie and Senjutsu Eddie dueling backdropped “Run to the Hills,” another epic of their career. They concluded the song with Bruce pushing a lever at the back of the stage to release an explosion of smoke and sparks–I had assumed this was the end of the performance, but to my surprise, the band returned on stage for “Aces High”, with Bruce adorned in an aviator helmet and a giant plane prop “flying” in from above. Bruce had trained for and obtained an aviation license back in the 90’s, which makes the spectacle that much more meaningful.
I returned home filled to the brim with a feeling of overwhelming gratitude and passion for the band and their work than ever before. For those who have never seen Iron Maiden perform live before, I highly recommend taking the opportunity to catch them on the road before the tour is over. This is just an overview in words and photos from the first two songs, which give only an inkling of how epic and theatrical their two-hour performances are that span their entire four-decade career. I've been a dedicated fan for 15 years and words can't describe how much I adore them, especially now, but they truly went above and beyond any performances I've seen videos of from the past. Still to this day, their energy on stage is unmatched. Whether you are currently a fan or not, the experience is worthwhile for anyone.
If you are unable to catch them on this tour, be sure to keep up to date on their social media platforms. Next for the band is Bruce Dickinson’s spoken word material in January in select locations across Europe, and Iron Maiden’s Future Past tour in Europe in 2023.
Iron Maiden NA Tour 2022 - Remaining Dates
10/15 - Ottawa, ON, Canada @ Canadian Tire Centre
10/17 - Worcester, MA @ DCU Center
10/19 - Belmont Park, NY @ UBS Arena
10/21 - Newark, NJ @ Prudential Center
10/23 - Washington, DC @ Capital One Arena
10/25 - Greensboro, NC @ Greensboro Coliseum
10/27 - Tampa, FL @ Amalie Arena
Purchase tickets (and see 2023 dates) here.