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By Shelly Harris, Chicago Contributor
Thursday, August 29, 2019 @ 1:54 PM

At Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, August 22, 2019

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On arriving at this particular venue, in the south suburbs of Chicago, on a picture-perfect summer night, some musings immediately flashed to my mind in the moments prior to the imminent first chords of the opening set by THE RAVEN AGE, which I was also primed to see.

IRON MAIDEN have always given 110 percent in their live performances; there is no question whatsoever about that. In fact, the consistent effort put into their stage presence, sets, and sonic detail is the primary reason for their unrelenting world-wide success over nearly 40 years, despite very little airplay and almost zero mainstream media recognition and accolades (at least up until now).

Nevertheless, I thought we had undoubtedly seen the best live incarnations of The Beast in years past, what with all the youthful energy and hunger ever more difficult to duplicate. And, truly, what could top the intense raw energy at their shows on the breakthrough Beast on the Road tour of '82 (where I saw them at a venue not far from this one called the Star Plaza), when Bruce had first come into the fold, and when the band was literally exploding on the metal scene in America and worldwide?

Or, what could be more impressive than their multiple date live performances at Radio City in NYC, for the World Slavery Tour in early '85 - an era that found the band truly dominant and at the top of their game? Or, for that matter, what could top their stepped up drama and maturity on the Dance of Death tour? (With few American dates, their nights at Universal City were a stunning step upward.)

Well, this night at a venue the band has played for decades (and where they successfully forced management to insert a pit down in the front some 14-plus years ago), IRON MAIDEN proved once again that they still have enough gumption to climb up yet another hill, rather than fading into the sunset. If fact, many elements of the Legacy of the Beast tour are jaw-dropping.

Specifically, what I quickly saw, along with the rest of the 15K in attendance, was that technology and modern culture have merged to propel that thing that IRON MAIDEN does so well to a new level, making it possible for the band to immerse its audience in the virtual world of its well-known historical and fantasy lyrical themes, drama, and Eddies, while incorporating sets and costumes that elicit thoughts of cosplay possibilities at a future fictional "Maiden-Con" event.

Technology has also allowed the band to fully realize life-size props with physical technology that produces such things as a flying plane, 3D mobiles ("Flight of Icarus") and projections, along with perfectly synchronized fireworks on an ever changing backdrop, transforming the stage into a medieval Eddie cathedral for such standards on this tour as "The Sign of the Cross", "Revelations", "The Evil That Men Do", or to the battlefields for such classics "Aces High", " Where Eagles Dare", "The Trooper" and "2 Minutes to Midnight".

In fact, attending this tour is only one step away from - but better than - being inside an IRON MAIDEN Holodeck.

Despite all that, IRON MAIDEN are at their heart about effort and passion, and throughout it all, Bruce Dickinson led the way on this show better than I had ever seen him do before. With his long locks suiting his swashbuckling wardrobe, he swaggered, swooned, and mesmerized, taking the passion and drama to Oscar level as he immersed himself into the characters. His banter this tour was entertaining and humorously irreverent ("There are two levels here? Did you pay more to sit up there?"), but not abrasive, his voice truly as strong and on top of the notes as ever. In taking his own performance up another notch, Bruce keeps the band's performance invigorating as well as they evidently continue to turbo-charge each other. Thus, this is a tour that in many ways surpasses IRON MAIDEN's own past highest water marks mentioned at the top.

With all that, it wasn't surprising to hear Bruce announce that MAIDEN will be back again with a new studio album, because, after all, the band is hitting a new groove that should also serve to quell all those retirement interview questions that they have been fielding of late. Who stops with a new peak on the horizon anyway? Certainly not IRON MAIDEN.

Noteworthy: The show opened up with THE RAVEN AGE, the band founded by guitarist George Harris (son of MAIDEN's Steve Harris), in support of their second full length release, Conspiracy. Primarily playing songs from that album, and despite some internet rumblings about nepotism, the band was a very compatible entree for IRON MAIDEN because elements of their music such as melodicism, dynamics, and certain lyrical themes are not dissimilar, particularly on stand out tunes "Fleur Di Lis", "Angel in Disgrace", "Grave of the Fireflies" and others. In addition, with at least two additional Euro tours under their belt since last opening for MAIDEN, and new and powerfully charismatic frontman Matt James on board, THE RAVEN AGE have also upped their own game to command the attention of the tough MAIDEN audiences, as they clearly appeared to do this night. With the strength of the new material and the battle scars to go with it, no oracle is necessary to predict we will soon see them Stateside again on their own tour.

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