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West Valley City • Maybe the dozens of metal fans snapping photos of one another long before Wednesday's Iron Maiden concert began at Usana Amphitheatre gave a hint that this might be a special evening.

Perhaps the fact that dozens of $40 Maiden England tour shirts seemed to be flying off the merchandise rack. Or could it have been the crowd of around 15,000 standing and screaming for opening act Coheed and Cambria?

Might it have been the full moon behind the giant fire-breathing stage that only parts of the standing, screaming crowd could see?

But when Iron Maiden front man Bruce Dickinson shouted, "Scream for me, Salt Lake City!" and, almost in unison, fans of all ages thrust their arms into the air and shouted at the top of their lungs, you knew this would be a special night.

Heavy metal music isn't for everyone. In fact, it's an acquired taste. But it was easy to get the impression that every metal fan for miles around marked Aug. 1 on their calendars to see one of the genre's greatest bands make a long-awaited Utah appearance.

And Iron Maiden didn't disappoint.

From the opening song "Moonchild," the band surprised and delighted with a near flawless performance featuring Eddie, its skeleton-like mascot, a gigantic strutting Gen. Custer and enough fire and pyrotechnics to make a fire marshal shudder.

This was classic hard rock, with the concert set list closely resembling the 1988 Seventh Son of a Seventh Son tour put on by a veteran band named after a torture device.

Fans played air guitars in the aisles and jumped to every beat as band founder Steve Harris set the tone with some nasty bass licks, drummer Nicko McBrain made good use of every drum in his huge set and guitarists Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers took solo turns. It was a night to remember.

Dickinson obviously did his homework, joking about the difficulty of getting a buzz on when drinking Utah's weak 3.2 alcohol content beer, and invoking Salt Lake City more than a few times.

There were highlights, though.

"Run to the Hills," featuring the gigantic Custer skeleton, certainly was one. "The Number of the Beast," with tongues of fire shooting into the sky and a devil-like gigantic beast showing up behind the stage was another.

But perhaps the number that brought the most screams was the "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" rendition, complete with a giant Eddie with a single flashing eye and a giant orb near his navel making a grand appearance.

I particularly enjoyed "Afraid to Shoot Strangers," a sort of anti-war song introduced by Dickinson who saw some Canadian soldiers on a plane during the tour and wondered how difficult it might be to shoot a stranger.

It's been many years since this classic metal band appeared in Utah. Judging from the staging, the stellar sound where it was possible to hear the words to many songs above the pounding music and the reaction of an appreciative crowd, it was a night to remember.

wharton@sltrib.comTwitter@tribtomwharton —

Iron Maiden

R With Coheed and Cambria.

Where • Usana Amphitheatre, West Valley City.

When • Wednesday.

Bottom Line • Iron Maiden puts on a metal show to be savored before a huge crowd.