We’re not quite prepared for the sense of occasion that gathers in the run up to the first U2 home-city show of a tour. Normally reticent people are spilling their love for the band, clubs sneak some old Perfecto remixes onto dance floors and a palpable sense of anticipation and excitement exists around the city. Indeed, we almost convince ourselves that we had made the same journey down the quays to The Point for 1989’s Love Comes To Town New Year’s show – the last time they played under a roof in Dublin. We actually missed that show but our Dublin youth is scattered with bookmarks of these other great events, bigger and better each time. Through blue skies over Croker, Zoo Tv, the giant Lemon and the monumental Slane we grew up, so this homecoming is a bookmark for the city, not just the band.
They enter from the back, heralded in by Patty Smith’s ‘People Have the Power’ and canter down the walkway that bisects the crowd, towards the fairly sparse stage to a welcome as big as you’d expect. Bono is clearly excited to be back on the Northside and jumps straight into ‘The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)’ and we’re off. It’s a simple set-up for the beginning, four lads on an open stage. Couple of lights. Bit of smoke. Could be Whelan’s almost. ‘The Electric Co.’ follows it up as they flip between the very old and new. It’s finally when we get to the song for his mother, ‘Iris (Hold Me Close)’, that the vast double-sided screen that hangs over the walkway sparks to life with some video footage of his mum, and thus begins the full U2 show; bells, whistles and tellies the size of Liberty Hall.
It’s a Dublin-centric beginning, befitting the path of the new album. As he sings about the street he grew up on, Bono climbs inside between the screens and walks though an animated version of Cedarwood Road. It’s a spectacular piece of machinery, but the use of an illustrative version of his home street with early press shots and bits of Bowie on TV is a bit over-telling the story. All we need to know is in the song, so this literal visualising in a cartoony way comes off a bit hammy. Tired metaphors such as the lightbulb appear and you do wish that they’d go a bit Zoo TV on it instead. There’s a ‘young Bono’ character then that moves through different rooms of a house like something from kid’s TV. We’re struggling a little, we have to admit.
But hang on, is that Larry Mullen with a marching drum stepping out and down along the divider? It is and stripping ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ down to this is a smart move. The four line up along the walkway as images, statistics and calls for justice about the North scroll up. Tonight we’ll be told about the North, AIDS, Syria, the refugee crisis and Paris, with only the climate getting left out. All legit concerns but in our highly connected age we are all very aware of these things and sometimes the line between this info and the entertainment around them blurs a little weirdly and it feels odd cheering in the arrival of the epic ‘Until the End of the World’ as pictures of murdered Irish people fade off the screen. We do shake ourselves out of it and the lads fairly well rock the foundations with it too. And with the first Achtung Baby track, a sea change is about to occur – but first an interval. Yep. A recording of ‘The Fly’ plays as the screen becomes a giant yellow Berlin Wall in the centre of the arena and we all get a toilet break.
The return begins inside the screens, but this time the full band – even a small drum kit is fitted in. The genius of it is there is no real front of stage tonight. At some point, each part of the crowd has a slot at the front. Parts of the display are breaking apart to reveal the band as they re-start with ‘Invisible’ and then huge versions of themselves are projected in front of each member as they crackle into ‘Even Better than the Real Thing’ and it sounds immense. They march out and as the screen rises they set up in the round, bang centre of the walkway and as it his wont, Bono brings a lady up on stage. Josie from California is a pretty awesome find though and as they drop into ‘Mysterious Ways’ she is more than a match for him, dancing rings around them and taking control of the Bonocam.
A bit of the stage flips up and a magic piano appears as Edge takes the helm for ‘Every Breaking Wave’, but it’s a pin-drop moment when the screens above show beautifully shot, harrowing footage of a bombed-to-pieces Syria to a stirring ‘October’. Bono carries the final note, Edge stands up and grabs a guitar and screeches into ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ as only he can do and it’s fairly huge. The singer adds a bit of a self-deprecating ‘Who do I think I am with my money and private jets’ twist to the end of it, which we can’t quite figure out the angle of, but you can’t stop Bono from being Bono you know. Just ask Kofi Annan.
From there on in they don’t miss a trick. ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. Huge. ‘Pride’. Huge. And it’s all beams of light down into ‘With or Without You’ and sure you’d sing yourself hoarse to it. Beautiful. The final moment of the night will of course be ‘One’ and the singing is handed over to the crowd for half of it and it seems like even the security are joining in, the sense of occasion getting the better of everyone.
A fairly big Monday by any standards, and it’s good to witness the U2 machine roll into town again. The band almost try to do too much with what they build, and it often distracts a bit much from the music. Yet somehow they link it all together enough and you can really tell that being back home means a lot. Bono isn’t going to stop saying embarrassing-dad type things, but he’s also an honest and funny dude too. He’s not going to stop using the shows as a soapbox for genuine issues that he feels we should engage with either, and once you make your peace with that – the spectacular is there, with plenty to spare. Welcome home.
U2 photographed for State by Mark Earley.