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Iron Maiden wins the 'Battle of San Bernardino'

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Tens of thousands of fans gathered in San Bernardino on Friday to chant a verse from the Book of Revelations foretelling our imminent doom.

A religious revival? Of sorts. Many of the attendees would equate it as such.

The event was a one-day heavy metal festival dubbed “The Battle of San Bernardino,” and the band was Iron Maiden, which had brought its 18-month worldwide Maiden England tour to Southern California for a second time.

Concertgoers at San Manuel Amphitheater might have been out in the sun since noon but they showed no sign of slowing down when the British heavy metal sextet hit the stage in the evening for a memorable show.

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Although Iron Maiden has been together for nearly 40 years, band members' energy on and off the stage was electric (and enviable). They played to hard-core fans who knew not only the familiar Revelations verse-turned-lyric on “The Number of the Beast” but could also sing lines from the rarely played “The Prisoner.”

Singer Bruce Dickinson's powerful vocals were as strong as ever -- and this is the guy Circus magazine dubbed the “human air raid siren” more than 30 years ago. The show -- based on 1988’s “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” album -- featured songs from such albums as “Powerslave,” “The Number of the Beast,” "Seventh Son” and the band's debut, “Iron Maiden.”

An early gem, "The Prisoner" began with Nicko McBrain’s pounding drums laying the foundation and shaking the crowd. Founding member Steve Harris’ trademark bassline was next and set the stage for a roller-coaster of mountainous riffs that crescendoed into the familiar yet epic triple  guitar frenzy from Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers.

Seeing the trio handle the lesser-known (but warmly welcomed) “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” and the classic “Phantom of the Opera” was just fun. And these guys genuinely appeared to be enjoying it.

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But Maiden fans have seen this camaraderie for years in the many DVDs of concert footage.
DVDs can be a double-edged sword for some bands, however, as the live sound can be doctored in the studio.  That’s not a bad thing when you want to enjoy music in your home theater. But it can provide false expectations for fans who then see a show live.

Not so for Maiden. What you hear on “Flight 666” or “Iron Maiden En Vivo!” is what you get live. Actually, the live performance sounds better. The music Friday was tight, precise and flawless.

At San Manuel, the drums and bassline felt like punches. It was Mayweather versus Alvarez when Harris and McBrain teamed up on “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.” And, unlike "Canelo" Alvarez, the fans refused to tire. No one at an Iron Maiden concert sits down. Certainly not for “Fear of the Dark.” A crowd favorite for more than two decades, it starts off eerie, as Dickinson channels a Vincent Price laugh, and the lighters come out like a Skynyrd concert from ’75.

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And then the tempo exploded, McBrain turned into an octopus, Dickinson became a conductor, and the crowd jumped up and down like a bunch of 4-year-olds in the bounce room at McDonald’s.

A highlight? Perhaps “The Number of the Beast.” Dickinson still nailed the high notes. Harris’ bassline sounded like fireworks. The guitar solos were not only note-for-note perfect but also slammed you into the ground. I woke up with the song still ringing in my head at 4:30 a.m.

What about the seventh member of Iron Maiden?  Eddie.  You know, the giant lobotomized,  zombie-like monster that appears on every album cover and frequents the stage.

He appeared as a 12-foot George Custer in “Run to the Hills,” where he played on McBrain’s drum kit and towered above Gers before holding a sword up to his throat.

And later in the show, his head, sans body, made an appearance during the song “Iron Maiden.”  What made this a Hallmark moment were the flames shooting out of his freshly cut head along with red laser eyes (pulsating, of course).

These guys are showmen. They have fun. They love their fans. No wonder they’re one of the bands that can still sell out stadiums -- worldwide.

As Maiden fans say, “Up the Irons, mate!”

The 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"

"Iron Maiden"

"Aces High"

"The Evil That Men Do"

"Running Free"

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