In Iron Maiden’s first concert in 19 months, singer Bruce Dickinson opened their 2016 world tour with a full-throttle, devil-may-care performance that thrilled a sold-out BB&T Center Wednesday night even as it may have have traumatized the management team in charge of protecting his recovering voice.
The Sunrise show was the kickoff for the Book of Souls World Tour, delayed last year by the discovery of a cancerous tumor in Dickinson’s throat. If there were rules governing his return to the stage after chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Dickinson seemed eager to smash them.
Dressed in military-style khakis, black boots and a black hoodie (frequently removed to reveal a sleeveless black T-shirt), a lean and mean Dickinson shrieked and bellowed, swaggered and cajoled, leapt and whirled off risers, patrolling the stage like a panther, clearly pleased to be back in front of an audience.
In the parlance of one fan, whose last Iron Maiden concert came 30 years ago, Dickinson was “as good as he ever [expletive] was. Dude can wail.”
Performing on a tiered rectangluar stage made to look like a mystical Mayan ruin, Iron Maiden delivered a brisk set that ran about 90 minutes and mixed a healthy dose of their hugely popular new album, “The Book of Souls,” with a few surprising detours.
Columns of flame intermittently shot from the walls of the ruin, and a large inflatable version of the band’s mascot, Eddie, made a brief, explosive appearance, but otherwise the focus was on the music.
The opening number, “If Eternity Should Fail,” immediately established that there was no rust on Iron Maiden, with Dickinson’s clear, lone-wolf vocal quickly swallowed up in a thundering wall of guitar.
If the night was a tour de force for Dickinson, it also provided a reminder that bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain compose the best rhythm section in the hard-rock genre. Guitarists Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers brought all the necessary firepower to the night, with Murray’s solo carrying another new song, “Speed of Light,” where it needed to go.
The first detour came early: “Here’s an oldie. We thought it might make you happy,” Dickinson said, as Smith picked out the delicate opening chords of “Children of the Damned,” from the 1982 album “The Number of the Beast.” It made the crowd very happy, indeed.
“The Book of Souls,” which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, was represented by several other enthusiastically received songs, including the title track, “Death or Glory,” “Tears of a Clown” and “The Red and the Black,” the latter distinguished by Harris’ poetic introductory throb and the concluding “whoa, oh” call-and-response between singer and audience.
Dickinson had them right where he wanted them.
As expected, "Hallowed Be Thy Name" sent the crowd into a pogoing frenzy. “The Trooper,” with Dickinson high above the stage waving a soiled Union Jack, also created a stir.
Because he only has nearly 70 more opportunities to shred his voice on the Book of Souls tour, Dickinson’s first concert back ended with three encore songs: “The Number of the Beast,” “Blood Brothers” and the poignant “Wasted Years.”
There aren’t many metal bands who can keep a grip on a 20,000-seat arena anymore, and Wednesday night brought fresh evidence that Iron Maiden isn’t letting go just yet.