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Sixteen years is a long time to go between Twin Cities tour dates, but that’s a puny gap when you’re singing about ancient wars and boast an ageless, undead mummy as a star of your show.

British metal pioneers Iron Maiden and their ghoulish mascot Eddie finally made it back to Minnesota on Friday night to play to a packed and rabid audience at Xcel Energy Center. While they had a strong new double LP to promote, “The Book of Souls,” the proud veteran rockers carried on relatively unchanged and resilient in the lull since their last local date next door at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, way back when Bill Clinton was still president.

The hot new Swedish band that opened Friday’s show, Ghost, also harked back to metal’s costumed ’80s heyday, but not quite so charmingly. Coming off like a cross between King Diamond, Panic at the Disco and an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical — predictable, they are not — Ghost’s members performed virtuosic, melodic death-metal all dressed up in masks. Their schlocky stage show was a lot of fun but underlined how well Maiden has toed the line between monstrous gimmickry and genuine ferocity in its four decades.

Ghost's frontman Papa Emeritus was the most elaborately dressed of them -- a demonic pope outfit -- but he sounded more like Squiggy from "Laverne & Shirley," which was compounded by his polite Swedish accent when he spoke between songs. No metal singer has sounded so cuddly yelling, "Meeenesota, let me hear you scvreeeeam!" since Klaus Meine of the Scorpions.

Maiden’s members came out looking like your standard metal dudes in jeans and black T’s. Singer Bruce Dickinson actually looked like he was headed to the Boundary Waters after the show, in a black hoodie and brown boots. Their commoner look belied the elaborate stage, though, a Mayan-themed production with pyramids, Indiana Jones stage props and fire. Lots of fire.

Luckily, the music was as incendiary as the theatrics. Bassist and primary songwriter Steve Harris literally hit the stage running as the band brazenly opened with its latest album’s nearly nine-minute kickoff track, “If Eternity Should Fail.”

It could have been a dud of a start, but fans remained riveted as the three guitarists — heyday guys Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, plus Smith’s one-time replacement Janick Gers — showed their uncanny synchronicity. Two relatively deep-cut oldies soon followed, “Wrathchild” and “Children of the Damned,” contrasting the long, new epic with more old-school thrash.

Friday’s set list was surprisingly devoid of many of the band’s biggest hits (“Run to the Hills,” “2 Minutes to Midnight,” “Aces High”). Given the long gap between appearances and Dickinson’s bragging about how easily the show sold out, Twin Cities fans should have been treated to a couple more old favorites. Clearly, though, Maiden wanted to pass itself off as a band not just running on fumes and pyro.

“We’re musicians, not trained seals,” Dickinson boasted again after one of the edgier new songs, “The Great Unknown.”

The ploy worked surprisingly well, though. A pairing of “Death or Glory” and the 13-minute “The Red and the Black” — both also off last year’s double-LP — made for a thrilling middle portion of the show. Dickinson had plenty of time to catch his breath as the guitar soloing reached a crescendo like “Free Bird” in thundering overdrive.

At 58, Dickinson more than held his own when the time came. He returned in a red WWI soldier’s uniform waving a large Union Jack flag for “The Trooper.” His voice never wavered as he ran from one side of the stage to the next and hit high notes from 30-plus years ago, continuing on in the encore with “The Number of the Beast” and “Wasted Years.”

As for Eddie, the old deadhead showed up in giant inflatable format just before the encore in the namesake song “Iron Maiden,” much to the delight of the nearly 15,000 fans. Some gimmicks in rock never get old, but it helps a lot if the band also sounds as ageless as Maiden did Friday.

The Trooper. So monstrous (no pun).

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Here's the full Iron Maiden set list from Xcel Energy Center:

  • If Eternity Should Fail
  • Speed of Light
  • Wrathchild
  • Children of the Damned
  • Death or Glory
  • The Red & the Black
  • The Trooper
  • Powerslave
  • The Great Unknown
  • The Book of Souls
  • Fear of the Dark
  • Iron Maiden
  • ENCORE:
  • The Number of the Beast
  • Blood Brothers
  • Wasted Years

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658

@ChrisRstrib