Opening song • "If Eternity Should Fail," a track from the aforementioned "The Book of Souls," was a somewhat nondescript opener. The crowd nevertheless went nuts upon the realization that the roadie futzing about with the smoking cauldron was actually Dickinson in a hooded sweatshirt and cargo pants. No roadie's hitting notes like that.
Highlights • I'm a guitar guy, so it was a bit of a surprise to me that Maiden's rhythm section of bassist Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain carried the night. Most bass players are sublimated in the background at live shows, buried far beneath the layers of the six-stringers (which could easily have happened with Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers), so it was a pleasant surprise that Harris' trademark gallop was front and center. As for the songs, beyond the hits, the chugging rhythm of "The Red and the Black," and the singalong wail of "Blood Brothers" were compelling.
Lowlights • NO "RUN TO THE HILLS"??? No "Flight of Icarus"? Or "2 Minutes to Midnight" or "Can I Play With Madness" or "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter" or "Futureal"? Et cetera, et cetera. I get that it's "The Book of Souls" tour, but devoting six of the 15 songs you play to tracks from that album — especially given the extended running time on many of them — seemed a curious decision at the expense of some favorites the audience clearly missed.
Meanwhile, Dickinson's yowl remains powerful and ferocious, but the audio mix was such that he was virtually incomprehensible from my vantage point for large swaths of the show.
Crowd favorites • When Maiden did uncork the tunes with broader mass appeal, an audience that was frequently restless snapped to attention. "The Trooper" was a nice, concise follow-up to the extended "The Red and the Black," "Number of the Beast" was exceptional as the encore opener, and hearing 20,000-plus people belt out "Fear of the Dark" was a spine-tingling moment.
Best banter • Dickinson prefaced "Children of the Damned" by taking note of the relative youngsters in the audience: "Some religions ban sex altogether, but they tend to go out of business rather quickly. … There's a 40-second bit at the beginning of this song which is almost a bit smoochie, which is unusual for us. And then it all goes downhill and gets gnarly from there. Anyway, I know it's awful to think of your parents having sex, but if you're here, they must have at least once. And if you were born around 1983, and your parents were Maiden fans, there's a chance that you are — "Children of the Damned!' "
Opening song • "Square Hammer" was Ghost's lone original from its most recent EP, "Popestar," and it's a keeper. It's lighter fare than much of Ghost's material, but it's catchy as hell.
Highlights • For starters, their sound quality was pristine by comparison. Then, opening with "Square Hammer" and closing with "Monstrance Clock" were tremendous bookends. And the opening bass riff of "From the Pinnacle to the Pit" remains thunderous.
Meanwhile, any longtime fans aware of the band's recent drama and knowing that the backing band is completely new and therefore (in solidarity to those departed) hoping for them fall on their faces will be disappointed, as the newbies were mostly spot-on musically, and entertaining in their showmanship, to boot.
Lowlights • Perhaps the lone exception to the previous statement is the keys player, known as the "Air" ghoul. The pipe-organ effect on "Mummy Dust" just sounded a bit off, as did the keytar solo.
Crowd favorites • Ghost fans always enjoy the opportunity to sing the "Come together" chorus of "Monstrance Clock." But nothing got the devil's horns pumping quite like foreboding opening riff of the Grammy-winning "Cirice."
Best banter • Much of Papa Emeritus III's explanatory preamble to "Monstrance Clock" is unprintable in a family publication. He eventually summarized it as "how to achieve, specifically, a female orgasm, in a slightly-overcomplicated-however-ritualistic way … in the name of Satan!"
Up next at USANA Amphitheatre • Steve Miller Band with Peter Frampton, Aug. 2.