Tuesday, March 1, 2016 | 11:57 p.m.
Near the end of his band’s sonically brilliant two-hour concert Sunday night at Mandalay Bay Events Center, Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson delivered a monologue with the historically supported moral that an empire’s expansion directly increases its vulnerability.
Dickinson was introducing the concept of the title track off his band’s latest album, “The Book of Souls,” but he could have just as easily been providing meta commentary on the Iron Maiden concert experience.
The very quality that makes Iron Maiden likely the greatest metal band of all time poses a challenge for its live show. The group has more treasured material than it could possibly cover in a single set. A discography of 16 albums in 36 years isn’t much unlike a continent acquired over a century of conquest.
“It’s hard to know what songs to pick from all these years we’ve been doing stuff,” Dickinson admitted to the sold-out crowd early on.
That could have gone without saying as the band barged through a set heavy on new songs and semi-classic cuts skipped over on recent tours. It made for a setlist strategy as certain to thrill the majority of diehard followers who count the times they’ve seen the band like birthdays as it was to alienate the minority undertaking its maiden Maiden voyage.
After creating more than an hourlong line at the merchandise table outside the venue, the former fan group responded to 13-minute opus “The Red and the Black” and curious encore “Blood Brothers” as favorably as any offerings all night.
The latter group groaned the lack of erstwhile staple “Run to the Hills” and the band’s complete ignoring of 1988 album “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” its highest artistic achievement.
It’s difficult to say whether Iron Maiden being so on top of its game eased or deepened the disappointment over not hearing certain favorites. The half-dozen songs performed off “The Book of Souls” sounded more powerful live, as the band belted them out with a conviction that proved a belief its insistence that the album released last year is Maiden’s best work.
The 57-year-old Dickinson put on nothing short of an inspiring vocal performance just a year after he was diagnosed with, and eventually overcame, throat cancer. And he probably wasn’t even the most valuable member of the band on this night.
Iron Maiden’s distinctive tri-guitar attack was a potent weapon. Longtime guitarists Adrian Smith and Dave Murray mesmerized with their often-alternating solos, as counterpart Janick Gers kept up while simultaneously spinning his own axe like a baton majorette.
The production value was another sight to behold. Iron Maiden had a setup more elaborate than most modern bands have the resources or desire to stage.
Fitting with the theme of “The Book of Souls,” a Mayan wall stretched the length of the stage behind the band. Dickinson darted across it throughout in front of rotating backdrops of more ancient imagery and the band’s longtime mascot, Eddie.
Eddie came to life on two occasions, first as a 10-foot war-hungry monster before Dickinson ripped his heart out and tossed it in a cauldron to spark a pyrotechnic explosion. He later appeared as a much larger inflatable, head and shoulders only, to watch over the band as it tore through the eponymous “Iron Maiden” from the 1980 debut album of the same name to close the main set.
It’s one of two songs safe to assume Iron Maiden will never leave out of any show, next to “The Number of the Beast.” The band’s most infamous track opened a three-song encore in which the devil blew up to replace Eddie with fire flanking him.
Along with “The Trooper,” in which Dickinson emerged outfitted in a red military coat waving his native British flag, “The Number of the Beast” elicited the loudest reaction of the night. Iron Maiden deliberately passed on opportunities to create more of those instances that catered to both sets of fans, but it’s hard to fault the band too much.
The band has built its own kingdom, one that requires defending.
“There’s something to be said about not becoming the world’s biggest karaoke band and doing the same (songs) for all these years,” Dickinson said.
Case Keefer is the Las Vegas Sun’s assistant sports editor.