Iron Maiden @ Utilita Arena, Birmingham – 4 July 2023

NWOBHM legends Iron Maiden hit the second city on ‘The Future Past Tour’ to perform tracks from their 2021 album release ‘Senjutsu’, while revisiting 1986’s iconic ‘Somewhere In Time’, and a few other classic cuts.

I first saw Iron Maiden in 1984 at Birmingham Odeon, followed by two nights on the bounce in ’86. I was a proper fan-boy back then, and nothing has really changed. But still, it’s not for me to suggest who the most important and influential metal band of all time are. That’s subjective of course. Although, with a global fanbase of millions, and around 15,000 of them out in force at the Birmingham Arena tonight, it’s fair to say there’s a general feeling in the air … It’s Iron Fucking Maiden baby!

The familiarity of UFO’s ‘Doctor Doctor’ builds the anticipation, followed by the end titles to ‘Blade Runner’, and the place is ready to lift off. There’s a blast of pyro, and pillars of smoke, as Bruce and the boys hit the stage with ‘Caught Somewhere In Time’, and the first classic highlight ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’. One minute I’m mooning over the exceptional guitar work of Adrian Smith, when the stranger himself, Eddie makes an early but brief appearance behind him.

In goggles and trench coat, Bruce works the width and depth of the stunning, futuristic stage set. His vocal shows no sign of weakness, much like the exuberance of the entire band. Steve Harris gives plenty of his machine gunner bass posing, while Janick Gers, who at the average band member age of 66 (Yes, I did the maths! It’s actually 66.6 as we stand! 🤘) dances around like an enthusiastic gymnast. It’s enough to put many gents of a younger age to shame.

From the most recent album comes ‘The Writing On The Wall’, ‘Days Of Future Past’ and ‘Time Machine’. Bruce, not for the first or last time tonight encourages the masses before him to “Scream for me Birmingham!” before it’s time to get retro. Portmerion and Patrick McGoohan’s opening narration take us to Nicko McBrain’s decisive beat, which in turn leads us into ‘The Prisoner’, a fantastic include from the 1982 British metal centrepiece: ‘The Number of the Beast’.

With banter aplenty, Bruce mistakenly rolls into his intro for ‘Can I Play With Madness’ one song too early. With much amusement he corrects himself, and instead we are dealt the epic ‘Death of the Celts’. It’s a huge live number, with a passionate backdrop, and smoke pouring over the backline. The quintet of musos shine throughout, with Harry notably utilising an acoustic bass. Amongst others, Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, have set the standard for twin-guitar riffs and harmonies over the last 40 years, and they continue to be one of the great duos in metal. Combining technicality and fluidity, it’s awesome to watch and hear them work.

The “oh, oh-oh” sing-along in ‘Heaven Can Wait’ brings the inevitable goose bumps, followed by Cyborg Eddie and Bruce having a colossal gun/rocket battle. It’s then that a magnificent ‘Alexander the Great’ nods itself ahead of the rest. From ‘Somewhere In Time’, and only making its live debut in recent months, we’re gifted another epic of musicality.

Closing the main set is moody fan fave ‘Fear of the Dark’ and the standard ‘Iron Maiden’, during which Samurai Eddie and Janick duel intensely. Nicko takes his time to leave the stage, interacting with the crowd and distributing sticks. He’s given a massive cheer as he exits, before the expectant throb of an encore ensues.

Off ‘Senjutsu’ comes ‘Hell On Earth’ and everything required to take us to the end. From the backdrop visuals and initial tranquillity, through the building of momentum, to a flaming finale, this is an arena spectacle at its finest. Topping things off for the beckoning thousands is ‘The Trooper’ and ‘Wasted Years’, a perfect duo of classics to resonate on our journey home.

Iron Maiden have been around forever and on tonight’s showing I don’t see it, and I don’t want it to ever be any different. However, should somewhere in time it come to be, that these legends call it a day, then .. no, that can never happen. Not to the most important and influential metal band of all time. Can it? Nah! UP THE IRONS!

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston