Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013 | 4:26 p.m.
It’s one thing to get on concert security’s bad side.
It’s an entirely different thing to catch the ire of charismatic Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson inside a sold-out Mandalay Bay Events Center packed with loyal metal heads.
That brief incident, with the band riffing as Dickinson reprimanded a concertgoer who had been shoving a much smaller fan on his way to the front of the crowd, was just a short hiccup in an otherwise remarkable two-hour set by the British heavy metal group.
And even an episode like that could be turned around: Dickinson, something of a charmer as far as metal frontmen go, poked fun at the bully in banter between songs before confessing some mock concern for the arena’s structural integrity by the end of the night.
The Thursday night concert was the band’s first Las Vegas appearance in 13 years, but all the trappings of the show, from the setlist to the set design, go back farther: 1988, a time when the band had been forging their metal with progressive rock influences on the albums “Somewhere in Time” and “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.”
Dickinson is sure to defy the pop-culture trope of the aged rock star, as he could run circles around his ’80s metal contemporaries and even some frontmen half his age. The 55-year-old singer spins and twirls the microphone stand in the air, leaps over set equipment and climbs onto the second level of the stage, waving the Union Jack for Maiden staple “The Trooper.” It’s full steam ahead for Dickinson, who is no worse for wear even in the later songs.
And more essential than stage antics, Dickinson still has a wonderful set of pipes on him, youthfully going wail for wail in the opening moments of “Moonchild” and “Number of the Beast.”
In fact, the entire band sounds as good as they ever have. Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers make up Iron Maiden’s guitar trifecta, leading a sonic attack and adroitly navigating the crowd through guitar sections in tracks like “2 Minutes to Midnight” and the nearly 10-minute “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.”
Drummer Nicko McBain shines in the arena-shaking intro of “Run to the Hills” and the regular show-ender “Running Free,” with bassist Steve Harris rounding out the rhythm section and providing Iron Maiden’s trademark “gallop” throughout the night.
Harris, crouched and bass slung low, is a true delight to watch along with the band’s three guitarists.
One live Iron Maiden standout is “Fear of the Dark.” That somber number must be experienced in person, as the melodic “Oohs” of an arena packed with die-hard fans practically makes that song an entirely different one.
The two-level concert stage took on an arctic theme, with the band’s zombie mascot Eddie popping in on massive painted backdrops throughout the night. In a world of LED screens, hologram performers and pre-recorded footage, it was a refreshing throwback.
In one well-received twist, the set’s cool arctic blues took on a more infernal look for “Number of the Beast” — the field of ice floes looking more like a lake of fire and brimstone, with a statue of a monstrous hellion lurking behind the band, resulting in a sea of horned hands from the crowd.
Theatrics are the name of the game for Iron Maiden, and there would be a handful of other curious creatures onstage, including a massive re-creation of the version of Eddie on “Seventh Son’s” cover and as 12-foot tall General Custer-inspired Eddie shambling across the stage during “Run to the Hills.”
For a band known for the gallop in their sound, it seems Iron Maiden will continue to march on for some time.
Thrash metal band Megadeth’s opening set was likewise marked by an emphasis on older material. Save for one track (“Kingmaker,” a single from the band’s 2013 release “Super Collider”), the band’s setlist consisted entirely of songs recorded before 1992.
But that proved to be a fair enough choice, by audience reaction. “Peace Sells,” a track whose music video received substantial airplay in MTV’s early years, garnered Megadeth’s loudest ovation of the night, with the audience stamping to the iconic kick-drum and bass-line intro.
Frontman Dave Mustaine rarely shies from controversy — be it in lyrics or statements — so he took the chance to be topical before the band’s encore.
“Who wants to go to war in Syria? Yeah, me, neither. But if we did, this would be the soundtrack,” he said, as the band launched into their popular track critical of religious conflict, “Holy Wars … The Punishment Due.”
Megadeth’s setlist: “Hangar 18,” “Wake Up Dead,” “In My Darkest Hour,” “Sweating Bullets,” “Kingmaker,” “Tornado of Souls,” “Symphony of Destruction” and “Peace Sells.” Encore: “Holy Wars … The Punishment Due.”
Iron Maiden’s setlist: “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” and “Iron Maiden.” Encore: “Churchill’s Speech,” “Aces High,” “The Evil That Men Do” and “Running Free.”
Jorge Labrador is the news assistant for Las Vegas Magazine, a sister publication of Las Vegas Sun.