Swine Flu is going to kill us all. The bankers should be shot. The ocean is going to rise and cover us all. Tony Blair made an honest mistake. George Bush is a christian who was doing us a favour. Saddam wasn’t so bad after all. Bertie was a crook. The media could have saved the record business. Politicians are crooks. U2 only care about their old hats.
The new U2 album is a dud. It’s not selling as much as The Joshua Tree. There’s seats still for sale in Row 36. Larry’s leaving the band. Bono’s hurt because we’re talking about him moving thumb tax. Edge is hated in Malibu. Adam’¦is’¦shit, nobody’s talking about Adam for a change. U2 are going to buy us all musical instruments. 360 is 270 because they cant sell tickets facing the crabs arse. The new turf is going to be English. Nobody within a 15 miles radius of Croke Park likes U2. How dare a band play old songs. How dare a band play new songs. The media hate U2. The public don’t care about U2. The Americans aren’t buying tickets. U2 aren’t hip. U2 aren’t young. U2 are this, U2 aren’t that. We were never proud of them. We never loved them and went to see them as teenagers before we got our media jobs. We never ligged into the Joshua Tree, Zoo TV and Popmart tours.. The Irish press hate U2 this week, its been U2 whinge all week. Agh. It’s only a band.
Let’s just go the show shall we? And make up our own mind. The stadium is full. The people clearly love this band. This time the production fits the stadium. This time the stadium doesn’t dwarf the band. This time the band open with 4 songs from a new record. -Breathe’ and the title track of -No Line On The Horizon’ see the band come out all guns blazing even if the sound mix is taking it’s time coming together. Wow, the crowd love the new songs. We thought they didn’t buy the new record. They even love -Get On Your Boots’, it’s the first moment where the whole stadium bounces, who’d have thought? Then they embrace -Magnificent’ even more warmly, clearly that should have been the first single.
Bono has a moment with Larry during -Beautiful Day’. ‘You love this town /even if it doesn’t ring true’, he catches his eye, something going on there for sure, doesn’t feel like love. Clearly the singer didn’t read the weather forecast, a snippet of -Here Comes The Sun’ aint going to break the total cloud cover, is it? Larry is scowling and he does it for almost the whole gig. They don’t do the acoustic part we heard about last night. During -Mysterious Ways’, he brings a young out of town girl up from the crowd, it’s magic but then he has a private chat with her, she’s trying to tell him something, he tells her he lives in Killiney and to talk to the Missus. It’s kind of lost on the crowd. Bono makes a joke about topping last nights show and then he makes a joke about the band topping themselves on Monday, there’s a deep intake of breath, it’s not an appropriate comment for a country with a dreadful suicide rate and he knows it. He recovers by saying they won’t top themselves even if some people want them to (and refers to the fact that those people aren’t here tonight, one presumes he was thinking they might actually be in the press box though)’¦.it’s awkward and unfortunate but it’s a human moment, this guy knows he’s not infallible.
-Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ starts as a big stadium moment and then just disappears, it’s over too quick, what happened? -Angel Of Harlem’ though is more magic, a great soul song, it provides real hope this could yet be a great evening but -In A Little While’ kills it and not in a good way. A recorded message from the space station with Bono acting as narrator. Recorded ? but we’re here now? This is a live show even if one of the astronaut’s families are here’¦a recorded message?? This is Sky + not Zoo TV. It fell flat on its arse. A real whatever moment. Then -Unknown Caller’, a great attempt at innovation on the new record but nobody is going to sing ‘reboot yourself, move to trash’, no matter who wrote it and no matter how big a screen the lyrics are on. The crowd are not up for it (even the obligatory oh, oh’s wrapping round the big screen with the jumping karaoke ball), the lyrics are clearly rubbish, they read even worse then they sound. The gig seems to have fallen flat. This time for real, nobody’s buying it.
Shit, rain. Plastic magic mushrooms rise up to cover the band. Only Bono ventures out in the rain. The stage wasn’t made for this. It kills a few songs. The band are hiding, just getting through it alive, Bono is prowling the walkways, trying to make the best of it but the band aren’t connecting. Crew are wiping the walk ways in case someone slips. -The Unforgettable Fire’, is spine -tinglingly magic but the band are sheltering and it feels like it’s not clicking for them.
-City Of Blinding Lights’ and -Vertigo’ are certainly stadium pleasers but there’s still an unease about the lyrics there, is that what started turning people off them? They seem shallow, a front for a light show but nothing that means anything. And it doesn’t help that when one member of the band takes a walk around the platforms, the gig feels disjointed, like they’re not actually all singing and playing from the same hymn sheet. There’s danger here, the gig is slipping. Suddenly out of nowhere something that shouldn’t work but very clearly does. A dance mix of one of the weaker songs from the new album. -Ill Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight’, Larry is out on the walkway with his bongos, he’s stopped scowling. The bands faces are on the huge screens, messing, full of humour and mischief. The production has fired up. It looks incredible, it’s a reminder of the chances they’ve taken musically and visually in the past and it’s great.
The show is talking off now. -Sunday Bloody Sunday’ ,-Pride’ and -MLK’ are fantastic. Wow, this band once taught us things. Things that mattered. They still do. -Walk On’ is very moving, one of their best moments from later albums.. 80,000 people singing a song which tonight is dedicted to Burmese democracy. It works. Everyone loves it. Home stretch for -Where The Streets Have No Name’, it’s huge. They finish the set with -One’, clearly a great song, Bono ad libs ‘did you come here to play Jesus, I did’ it’s lost in the mix to most people. And then, another weird moment, after another Sky+ video of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, seriously, what’s with the pre-recorded spontaneity guys?? The screens are now displaying a number for people to text and join the -one’ organisation, it seems crass and inappropriate, no matter how noble the cause, this is where the activism collides with the rock and roll band but no one wins. An advertisement at what should be the climax of a rock and roll show? It feels like a misjudgement the band know about (the stadium doesn’t embrace it) but they’ve decided to brazen it out. It’s weird.
The encore is great, with proper darkness having descended and their own space station in full technicolour glory. Bono is wrapped around and swinging from an old mic during -Ultraviolet Light’ and -With Or Without You’. -Moment Of Surrender’ from the new record is truly inspiring, it’s one of their finest and they perform it like they know it, a new creative high. Towards the end though, it feels like an anticlimax, the band leave the stage and the bow when they return feels belated and doesn’t quite work, something just didn’t click at the end, maybe they blew themselves out last night, maybe the rain killed the momentum but even a walk around saluting the fans seems lost.
There’s no doubt this U2 show is way ahead of where they’ve been for years and it should, over the tour, lose some of the obvious creases and gain a finer sense of what works and doesn’t. They’re only a band and tonight they’re a very flawed band, now and then they’re a great band, sometimes a clumsy band but it’s hard not to think their greatness far outweighs their awkwardness. When all is said and done, a clear home victory.