The cancelled gigs of 2020 feel like it really is in the past as Iron Maiden finally made their Belsonic debut two years after it was originally scheduled.
This was the band’s fifth visit to Belfast overall and the first time that they had played an open-air festival here.
Support came from American bands Tempt and Shinedown and Australian rockers Airbourne.
When you get to a certain age it is all about pacing yourself for standing in a field and if truth be told, the other three bands apart from Airbourne didn’t have much appeal to me. So, myself and my friend Paul decided to head down in time to get a good spot to see Iron Maiden.
This was my first big gig post-Covid and previously having gig anxiety it was going to be the ultimate test for me being in such a big crowd. There were no real problems as the pit was already full and for the rest of the arena, there was plenty of room to mingle and move around.
Last time I saw Iron Maiden was in 2018 when they came to Belfast and played at the SSE Arena. This was one of the best gigs that I have been to, and the excitement and buzz of that gig were talked about for ages. So, would they be able to pull it off in the open air?
Coming on slightly not on time, which band does? They really like to tease the audience with the backing track starting with Transylvania from their debut album and UFO’s Doctor Doctor.
The band came on stage to a massive background from ancient Japan which is the theme of their most recent album Senjutsu which was released last year to critical and commercial success.
Kicking off with three tracks – Senjutsu, Stratego and The Writing on the Wall along with a massive samurai-clad Eddie moving about on the stage, it was great to hear the new songs for the first time live. Bruce Dickinson had his hair in a man-bun and bounced around with lots of enthusiasm for a man of his age.
After this, the backdrop changed to reveal a church with stained glass windows featuring chapters from the band’s mascot Eddie’s life.
You know what you are going to get from Iron Maiden and sometimes it is best not to look up previous setlists and hope they change it up a bit.
Revelations from 1983’s Piece of Mind was the first of the older material aired. After that, we got Bruce’s first words to the crowd as he talked about performing again for the first time in almost three years since Covid and that it was good to be back.
Introducing the many fans who travelled far and wide to get to Belfast, I noticed a Brazilian flag as well as a French one, which showed the dedication of the band’s fan base which Bruce acknowledged as a family before starting up with Blood Brothers from their Brave New World album and it was appropriate given the circumstances that we all found ourselves in during the pandemic.
“When you think that we have used all our chances, And the chance to make everything right
Keep on making the same old mistakes Makes untipping the balance so easy
When we’re living our lives on the edge Say a prayer on the book of the dead
We’re blood brothers, We’re blood brothers, We’re blood brothers We’re blood brothers”
Then it is time for a variety of costume changes as Bruce dons a black cloak welding an illuminated crucifix as he leads the metal congregation for Sign of the Cross. Another quick change has him welding a miniature flame thrower during Flight of Icarus as the backdrop changed to the winged Icarus.
I said to my mate Paul that this was the closest we were going to get to see flames onstage after Rammstein had their tour pulled from 20020. You could really feel the flames from the distance, and it did have you wondering if somebody was burning the burgers in the numerous food stalls around Ormeau Park!
I don’t know how he has the energy to keep up with these changes as we get another one for Fear of the Dark which has the crowd roaring its approval. This time coming on stage resplendent in a Venetian masquerade and top hat wielding a green lantern. He really is enjoying himself.
After ditching all the theatrics, Bruce is now behind bars as the band launch into Hallowed be Thy Name from 1982’s The Number of the Beast swinging the gallows rope overhead.
“I’m waiting in my cold cell when the bell begins to chime, Reflecting on my past life and it doesn’t have much time, ‘Cause at 5 o’clock, they take me to the Gallows Pole The sands of time for me are running low”
The scene really does bring the lyrics to life for this classic song. And the classics keep coming as the tape runs with English actor Barry Clayton quoting spoken word from the biblical passages in Revelations introducing the crowd to The Number of the Beast to great excitement from the crowd.
Hard to believe we have now got to this point, but we are now in the conclusion of the main set as the band trash through Iron Maiden which has the crowd screaming for more as Bruce goes “Scream for me Belfast!” I might have misheard but it also sounded like “Scream for me Belsonic!”.
The band leave the stage and start throwing guitar plecs, drumsticks and drumskins into the crowd. Some lucky fans are going to walk away with a few souvenirs tonight.
The first encore we get is The Trooper complete with a backdrop of Eddie. Bruce comes on stage dressed up as a soldier from the Crimean war complete with a sword and has a sword fight with a giant Eddie who also comes on stage dressed up in the same uniform. Bruce finally brings the flag on a musket proceeding to shoot him.
The Clansman is up next from 1998’s Virtual XI album and you can hear the chants of freedom echoing throughout the park.
The end is nearly here as the band break out into frantically paced Run to the Hills which is a real fan favourite and has many grinning with delight.
Time to pause. Another encore? Looks like we are getting another song as vintage footage from World War 2 comes up on the screen with Churchill’s speech. Do you know what is coming next? That’s right, Aces High from 1984’s Powerslave is going to be the set closer for the evening.
This feels a different way to end the show as this was the opener for the SSE Arena gig from 2018 complete with a giant Spitfire hovering over the stage. They pulled that off last night too which looked fantastic.
Just before 11pm and it’s all over as the band say their thank you’s, more plecs, drumsticks and skins are thrown into the crowd and then it’s time to leave as Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life booms through the PA.
Overall, 8/10 from me. A much shorter set from their last visit in 2018 with the only new additions being the three songs from the current album, Senjutsu but still a very enjoyable gig. The band still have it at their age. Up the Irons!
Many thanks to James Lynch for kindly allowing me to use some of the photos he took from the gig.
Previous Iron Maiden gigs attended:
1990 King’s Hall, Belfast – No Prayer on the Road
2011 Odyssey Arena, Belfast – The Final Frontier tour
2017 3Arena, Dublin – The Book of Souls tour
2018 SEE Arena, Belfast Legacy of the Beast tour 2018