Kicking off a week in the Chicagoland area that would see appearances by some of the biggest names in hard rock and metal, Swedish metal act Ghost performed alongside English stalwarts Iron Maiden Thursday night at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in south suburban Tinley Park…
“There’s one reason why we’re still here” said Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson Thursday night. “That’s because you’re still here.”
It was an obvious statement but an accurate observation in an era where most hard rock and metal acts aren’t filling large outdoor venues.
In fact, one of the most stunning things about Thursday’s crowd was the range in ages, with young kids present from the lawn to the general admission pit in front of the stage.
Credit shrewd placement of Iron Maiden music in video games ranging anywhere from Grand Theft Auto to Tony Hawk or Madden NFL but don’t rule out the passionate parents who’ve successfully passed their favorite music down to a new generation.
Thursday evening in Tinley Park marks the beginning of a week in Chicagoland that will not only see appearances by some of metal’s biggest names but, more interestingly, by major acts that now span three generations. Thursday’s show featured an opening set from Swedish metal act Ghost, serving as a precursor for performances this weekend by Avenged Sevenfold and Metallica at Soldier Field.
Ghost wasted no time getting to their biggest hit, opening their forty-five minute set with the keyboard driven, hook-laden crunch of “Square Hammer.”
Performing as a six piece Thursday night, Ghost celebrates anonymity. Controversy swirls online as to the identity of band members who perform onstage with their faces fully hidden by masks.
One identity no longer in question is that of lead singer Tobias Forge who fronts Ghost in the evolving guise of Papa Emeritus.
“Do you like to hear heavy songs?” he said playfully.
Ghost is unique in their hard rock embrace of the keyboard. But Forge was correct in noting that one of their fastest, most guitar driven affairs is also one of their heaviest. ‘Mummy Dust” proved to be a highlight Thursday in Tinley Park.
Ghost is also notable for its obvious embrace of horror films and Forge’s sense of humor was in line with that Thursday night. “Are you in heat Chicago?” he asked the crowd on an evening pushing 90 degrees.
A campy keyboard intro noted the beginnings of “Monstrance Clock,” a song which Papa Emeritus described as “a song to celebrate the female orgasm… and also satan.” It was a humorous moment but the set closing song proved to be one of the group’s most arena ready. It gave Ghost a full platform in which to showcase the strength of their music and the way it’s augmented onstage by the pageantry of their live show.
It was strange to see a band like Ghost performing in the sunshine of late afternoon. But by the time the opening notes of UFO’s “Doctor Doctor” rang out Thursday night in Tinley Park, it was dark and there was an energy in the crowd that was palpable. As the lights dropped, the crowd roared, drowning out the eerie intro to “If Eternity Should Fail.”
It’s the first track off Iron Maiden’s sixteenth studio album, 2015’s The Book of Souls, an album in support of which the group has toured relentlessly for most of the two years that have followed.
They’re performing six songs from the album each night, attempting, in the process, just as Metallica will do Sunday at Soldier Field, to make the case for new music in an era where its become harder than ever for a heritage act to do so.
The album reached number 4 in America on the Billboard 200 albums chart (Metallica’s latest effort Hardwired… to Self-Destruct hit number 1). Between the album sales, number of tickets sold and seeming embrace Thursday night of the new music itself, it would certainly seem there’s a thirst amongst metal fans for new music that may not exist in other genres where bands seem far more forced to embrace nostalgia.
“Speed of Light,” also from The Book of Souls, followed and kicked things up a notch. Dickinson, at 58 years of age, is the youngest member of Iron Maiden. Bounding across the stage as the “Speed of Light” solos hit Thursday night, Dickinson, as per the usual, demonstrated an energy that is absent amongst many of his peers. More importantly, his voice remains in fine form.
Dickinson, who underwent chemotherapy and radiation in 2015 to treat a cancerous tumor found on his tongue, appears to be having a blast on stage. He jumped up onto the drum riser, playfully grabbing the cymbals as Nicko McBrain did his best to work around it, during “Speed of Light.” Later, he chased guitarist Steve Harris with his microphone stand and draped a flag over guitarist Janick Gers from atop an amp during a rousing take on “The Trooper.”
Dickinson saved his finest air guitar for “Children of the Damned.” “Who was born after 1982?” asked the singer, referencing the song’s placement on one of Maiden’s finest studio efforts, The Number of the Beast. “Wow!” he responded in genuine surprise as the young hands went up.
The Number of the Beast was the only album, aside from The Book of the Souls, that the band performed more than one track from Thursday night in a setlist that has seen little change during this tour. “The Number of the Beast” proved a fine way to open the encore but the absence of hits from that album, like “Run to the Hills,” was notable.
“The world outside is going to hell in a hand basket” said Dickinson late in the show Thursday. “At least we can agree on something: tonight, we’ve come here to do an Iron Maiden show!” continued the singer to rapturous applause.
It wasn’t the only political moment of the show as Dickinson went on to criticize leaders who seem unconcerned about the people they’re leading, opting instead to “cover their own ass.” He never mentioned a specific “leader” by name – and didn’t have to.
He went on to describe an early Iron Maiden set at Chicago’s Navy Pier (part of the 1982 edition of ChicagoFest) before pointing out the diversity of the crowd in a heartfelt embrace of it.
It was one of the show’s more poignant moments and was immediately driven home with a performance of “Blood Brothers” from their 2000 studio effort Brave New World.
– Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )