TAMPA — Iron Maiden is the world's biggest cult band, a hairy, yawpy bunch of Satan-riling underdogs. They should be Black Sabbath; they should definitely be Judas Priest. But alas, for many unknowing souls, Maiden is merely the Group With the Creepy Concert Tees. I'm telling you, if these Brits weren't so terrifying, you'd want to hug them.
For 36 years, these giants of heavy metal have received zero love from FM radio. The band's most recognizable part is not a cutie band member but rather a flesh-averse mascot named Eddie. And yet, the earnest blokes have smartly made fandom feel like an elite club, which is why 12,556 followers — mostly pale slightly balding dudes … who totally rocked! — showed up to support the sextet at the St. Pete Times Forum on Sunday.
In a rare U.S. stop on its current world tour (they played two gigs in Florida and that was it for the States), Maiden unloaded a two-hour, 16-song set that focused on the proggy new album The Final Frontier but also included a smattering of old faves.
In the metal world, this show was a big deal, and worshipers flocked from all over just to lose their hearing Maiden-style.
And hoo boy, was it mind-scramblingly loud, with a three-guitar assault and Nicko McBrain's heart-pounding drumming. Lead singer Bruce Dickinson, he of the hellbound operatic quaver, is 52 now, but he still hops and bops about like a surly leprechaun on Red Bull.
And there was a lot of stage to cover, adorned as it was as a haunted space station. Think "Close Encounters of the Undead Kind" and you'll be close.
One of the progenitors of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Maiden makes no apology for its epic, so-serious concepts, and thus they delivered the opening Satellite 15 … The Final Frontier and followup El Dorado with Shakespearean gravitas.
That is, if Shakespeare wanted to melt your face off.
Soon enough, the band offered up a few classics: relatively happy doomsday scenario 2 Minutes to Midnight, which sent the place into hysterics, and 1983's war-mongering The Trooper, a perfect time to unfurl a stage-high canvas of zombie Eddie waving the Union Jack.
Maiden doesn't get much credit for being melodious, but there's some tender writing here and there, especially on Fear of the Dark, the title track from their popular 1992 album; the song was eerie-lovely — until it erupted into another shredding mammoth.
The show's final moments were a big sloppy kiss to fans. A huge walking "alien" Eddie (who was rather randy actually) thunked onstage during 1979 song Iron Maiden. And anthemic The Number of the Beast kicked off a spirited encore.
It should be noted that Maiden did not play its most well-known song, Run to the Hills. But that was a sweetly telling omission. They didn't need to. And the fans, diehards all, didn't mind one bit.
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.