All Photos by John McMurtrie in Charlotte on 6/12/12

What you think of Spinal Tap will largely dictate how well you receive Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper’s joint tour. Many, especially those born after 1980, may find this brand of over the top theatrical metal too overwhelming and flashy. There’s nothing wrong with that mentality. The music – and stage production – of Iron Maiden definitely won’t appeal to everyone. However, there is still a place in the modern concert industry for tours like this. Not everything can or should be stripped down and/or subdued.

And there’s nothing subdued about this tour. Alice Cooper’s band led off the show covered in blood paint and backdropped by cobwebs and laboratory equipment props. Matching Cooper’s “Friday the 13th” vibe, the backing band performed perfectly all the expected metal choreography. Each section of each song includes some combination of band members leaning on other band members while another plays his or her instrument as though to initiate “Star Power.” Not to be outdone, Cooper’s uniform included not only a boot with knife and skull belt buckle, but a mic holster. It’s a bit like watching an eighties music video in person, which is something everyone should be able to see at least once in their life. During “Feed My Frankenstein,” Cooper is made to look like the mad scientist giving life to a 12-foot-tall (conservative estimation) monster. Shortly after, some skeleton clad henchmen put Cooper in the guillotine. So while some of the songs were given limp interpretations (most disappointing “Poison”), at least the crowd was given immaculate visuals. The group closed their set with an extended version of the signature “School’s Out” which included a midsection of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall (Part II).”

Iron Maiden, despite being decades past their zenith of popularity and playing in a musical climate that is often unkind to aged metal acts, have retained a wide audience. Nearly 13,000 travelled out to the First Midwest Amphitheatre and endured the agonizing heat and humidity. Performing on a stage setup which employs a huge walkway for Bruce Dickinson to gallivant upon, Maiden blasted through a setlist which reached as far back as the band’s eponymous debut. Demonic and militaristic videos were played alongside the performance throughout the show. “The Prisoner” featured clips from the television show while “The Trooper” was accompanied by horse riding soldiers being gunned down. Needless to say, subtlety is pushed out the backdoor in favor of more vulgar and attention grabbing theatrics. Not to be outdone by Cooper’s Frankenstein’s monster, Maiden brought out their own outlandishly oversized creature, a 15 foot “Eddie” in battle attire.

Fortunately, Maiden isn’t simply about flash. Dickinson’s operatic vocals shone throughout the concert, especially on staples “Run For The Hills” and “Fear Of The Dark.” While technically speaking they’re miles apart, there’s a very Johnny Rotten quality to Dickinson, and it suits Maiden well. Guitarists Dave Murrey and Adrian Smith take turns on the lead, wind-milling often and thrashing through “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” in particular. From a distance, it’s as though nothing’s changed since the eighties, and that’s meant in the best way possible.

Sure, this tour is cheesy, and yes there are many in the crowd that can’t see why pillars of fire punctuating every drum kick is ham fisted, but you just can’t find this kind of showmanship very often anymore. Rarer still is matching good showmanship with good music, which is exactly what Iron Maiden provides.